Archiv der Kategorie: Philosophy

The limits of conventional wisdom

90% of twitter messages of newly appointed corona “epidemiologists” are arguing by conventional wisdom. Maybe we should have a quick look at the literature of cognitive psychology?

Using distinctive and equivocal data in scenarios, [Golding] found that distinctive data tended to evoke the same decision frame in all subjects, whereas equivocal data led to different decision frames among subjects. In other words, in the absence of a particular stimulus (i.e., a scenario is equivocal in nature), individuals tend to resort to a chronic frame of reference when interpreting those data.

A distinctive subject is easy to recognize because it is different from other things, while equivocal is a subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse.

Is covid-19 distinctive from other epidemics? Given the recent (but not very representative interview of epidemiologists ) I would argue  yes, most qualified researchers say this is a distinctive situation, even having not all relevant data at hand.

The twitterverse is experiencing a more equivocal situation. Simon Bridge says that we are falling back on  ‘comfortable myths and shared presumptions’ that constitute conventional wisdom – a term which was highlighted by John Kenneth Galbraith in his 1958 book The Affluent Society:

“To a very large extent, of course, we associate truth with convenience — with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. … Economic and social behavior are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding. … I shall refer to these ideas henceforth as the conventional wisdom.”

Deep fake science

I am currently working on a lecture how I make up my mind whenever approaching a new scientific field. Of course we get the first orientation by proven experts, by proven journals and textbooks, then we collect randomly additional material just to increase confidence.

But what happens if there is some deep fake science? A new Forbes article highlights now deep fakes, how they are going to wreak havoc on society and “we are not prepared”

While impressive, today’s deepfake technology is still not quite to parity with authentic video footage—by looking closely, it is typically possible to tell that a video is a deepfake. But the technology is improving at a breathtaking pace. Experts predict that deepfakes will be indistinguishable from real images before long. “In January 2019, deep fakes were buggy and flickery,” said Hany Farid, a UC Berkeley professor and deepfake expert. “Nine months later, I’ve never seen anything like how fast they’re going. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

It means that also empirical science can be manipulated as well which will be even hard to detect.


Fit a Function

Here is the link to a great blog post about Derek Lowe

The nice thing about Derek’s talk was that it was really delivered from the other side of the fence, that of an accomplished and practicing medicinal chemist. Thus he wisely did not dwell too much on all the details that can go wrong in modeling: since the audience mainly consisted of modelers presumably they knew these already (No, we still can’t model water well. Stop annoying us!). Instead he offered a more impressionistic and general perspective informed by experience.
Why von Neumann’s elephants? Derek was referring to a great piece by Freeman Dyson (who I have had the privilege of having lunch with a few times) published in Nature a few years back in which Dyson reminisced about a meeting with Enrico Fermi in Chicago. Dyson had taken the Greyhound bus from Cornell to tell Fermi about his latest results concerning meson-proton scattering. Fermi took one look at Dyson’s graph and basically demolished the thinking that had permeated Dyson and his students’ research for several years.

Yes, you can fit an elephant by just four parameters.

I think the elephant goes back to the 2010 paper by Mayer and the Dyson/Fermi meeting to a 2004 paper by Dyson.

I can not not resist to add here another reference here after reading all the COVID-19 modelling: the Hand 2006 paper which says

A great many tools have been developed for supervised classification, ranging from early methods such as linear discriminant analysis through to modern developments such as neural networks and support vector machines. A large number of comparative studies have been conducted in attempts to establish the relative superiority of these methods. This paper argues that these comparisons often fail to take into account important aspects of real problems, so that the apparent superiority of more sophisticated methods may be something of an illusion.

The epidemiology controversy explained

It is not easy to understand the major controversy in epidemiology right now. But there is great piece at Boston Review “Model versus Evidence”

In one camp are infectious disease epidemiologists, who work very closely with institutions of public health. They have used a multitude of models to create virtual worlds in which sim viruses wash over sim populations. … A notable detractor from this view is Stanford’s John Ioannidis … This talk of “biased evidence” and “evidence-based interventions” is characteristic of the evidence-based medicine (EBM) community, a close relative of clinical epidemiology. … Public health epidemiologists and clinical epidemiologists have overlapping methods and expertise; they all seek to improve health by studying populations. Yet to some extent, public health epidemiology and clinical epidemiology are distinct traditions in health care, competing philosophies of scientific knowledge. Public health epidemiology, including infectious disease epidemiology, tends to embrace theory and diversity of data; it is methodologically liberal and pragmatic. Clinical epidemiology, by contrast, tends to champion evidence and quality of data; it is comparatively more methodologically conservative and skeptical.

I agree, they are more orthodox and not able to overcome the scepticism in their genes and therefore unable to cope with an emergent situation.


Wenn Kirchen vorübergehend schliessen müssen

Es passierte nur einmal vor 100 Jahren, dass die Kirchen vorübergehend wegen einer Pandemie schliessen mussten.

Dabei geht es eigentlich nicht um Kirchenschliessungen – Gotteshäuser kann man offen lassen – es geht um Veranstaltungen und Gottesdienste, bei der Menschen die Infektion weitergeben können.

Schulen und Kitas in Bayern sind diese Woche geschlossen worden. Auch der Kirchenvorstand meiner evangelischen Gemeinde setzte letzte Woche alle Veranstaltungen aus, ebenso die katholische Kirche im Ort, nachdem das Erzbistum München Freising in der letzten Woche alle Gottesdienste zentral abgesagt hat.

Nur die evangelischen Dekanate bis hinauf zum Landesbischof und EKD Vorsitzendenden tun sich schwer mit dieser einfachen Entscheidung. Der Regionalbischof schreibt mir zwar, sie würden die Sorgen der Menschen ernst nehmen, aber die Empfehlung, die dann anschliessend an die Gemeinden verschickt wird, widerspricht nicht nur jeder Empfehlung sondern auch dem gesunden Menschenverstand: “Wir empfehlen, wie bisher Gottesdienste anzubieten und dabei auf größeren Sitzabstand zu achten; gegebenenfalls auch eine Beschränkung der Teilnehmendenzahl”.

Der Landesbischof verteilt dazu Durchhalteparolen auf Twitter, und eine Kanzelabkündigung “Gott hat uns nicht gegeben ein Geist der Furcht”.

Mein Einwand, auch in Korea wurde die Infektion primär über eine Kirche verbreitet wird von @EKD auf Twitter geblockt… Dabei habe ich nicht einmal gesagt, daß Bedford-Strom auf dem Tempelberg besser etwas weniger, dafür jetzt aber etwas mehr Furcht gezeigt hätte.

In dem Zusammenhang auch noch Niebuhr zitieren  als Beleg für Gelassenheit, Mut und Weisheit, ist auch etwas geschichtsvergessen. Reinhold Niebuhr war 1918 Pfarrer in Detroit / Michigan als die spanische Grippe wütete. Er schreibt in Faith and history, Scribners 1949 auf S.199 ff

This negative attitude toward the structures and institutions of social and political life is integral to a wide tendency in Christian thought … An individualistic and pietistic version of the Christian faith obscures the moral and social meaning of human existence and evades man’s responsibility for achieving a tolerable accord with his neighbors … If Lutheranism gives a classical expression of the error in Christian thought, derived from the fact that the individual transcends every social structure and community and is therefore tempted to regard its moral ambiguities as proof of the unredeemable character of man’s social existence, both Catholicism and Calvinism are safe against this error. They have a lively sense of the individual’s responsibility for the whole of his common life.

Die negative Haltung gegenüber sozialen, politischen und wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnissen scheint also doch eine längere protestantischen Tradition zu haben gegen die der Katholizismus nicht ganz so anfällig ist.

Corona Leugner Wodarg: “Bleiben Sie besonnen”
Bayern evangelisch:  “Landesbischof ruft zu Besonnenheit auf”

Why I like libraries

In full support of “21st century science overload” while I wrote my thesis even before the digital revolution

I did my PhD on the cusp of the digital revolution. While I could find many new papers online, most of the older work was still in hardcopy format. I spent a lot of time at the library, photocopying, but I also used that time to browse. I’d look at other papers in the journals I was photocopying, and browse books on the shelves near where I found these journals. I’d often fortuitously stumble across something relevant that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Browsing allowed me to think laterally, to compare my research and results with work that perhaps overlapped on only one particular aspect. These comparisons sometimes shed light on my project, which might not have happened had I not found a particular article or book.

The career is based on 3 things

Forbes/B Y Lee summarized the 3 things: grants, papers, kissing

In many academic settings, particularly in medical schools, your research career will live or die based on three things: how much grant funding you bring in to the institution, how much you publish in scientific journals, and who happens to like and not like you, not necessarily in that order. You don’t necessarily have to do all three to advance. For example, those who can’t really do the first two may focus on doing the third, which is otherwise called kissing up or playing politics. Note that none of these three are necessarily indications of how much you really innovate and contribute to science or society.

Reporting misconduct


Source Horbach 2019 (visited 28Feb2020)


In our limited sample, professors reported a witnessed case of alleged misconduct more often (67% reported vs 29% not reported) than other members of academia … we found that researchers in permanent positions report incidences of suspected misconduct twice as often as those in temporary positions… here was little difference between men and women regarding the reporting of alleged research misconduct.


Source Pickett 2016 (visited 28Feb2020)

(morally unacceptable, see Kant [1, 2 “falsiloquium dolosum”), 3]

About the psychology of scientists

It is my impression that most of the scientific misconduct cases are not the result of intentional fraud (with some exceptions) but self deception, poor education, indifferent handling of facts and wrong rewards.

Dorothy Bishop thinks that the role of cognitive biases in sustaining bad science is underestimated.

I shall argue, however, that to improve scientific practices we need to go deeper, to understand and counteract the mechanisms that maintain bad practices – not just at the institutional level, but in individual people…
Much has been written about how we might tackle the so-called “replication crisis”. There have been two lines of attack. First, there are those who emphasise the need for better training in experimental design and statistics. Second, it is recognised that we need a radical overhaul of the incentive structure of science.

Source: Dorothy Bishop viewed 28Feb2020


Interesting slide #26 on p-hacking and the sequence of positive/negative studies when the sequence of ‘significant’ results is YNNNYNNNYN – my empirical example would be the pseudo association of mycobacterial infection and allergy.  Interesting also her slide #31 on the canonization of false facts which looks like the reverse! association of vitamin D and allergy.

inherently dishonest people

Gemma Conroy about a new study by Satalkar and Shaw

More training and clear guidelines are favoured as fixes for bad research practices, but a new study suggests that these efforts are wasted if researchers are inherently dishonest.
The study published in BMC Medical Ethics revealed that childhood education and personality traits have a greater influence on how researchers conduct their work than formal training in research integrity.

Research integrity is an ever expanding field

The few empirical articles that examined determinants of misconduct found that problems from the research system (e.g., pressure, competition) were most likely to cause inadequate research practices. Paradoxically, the majority of empirical articles proposing approaches to foster integrity focused on techniques to build researchers’ awareness and compliance rather than techniques to change the research system.

Discussing science fraud, techniques in seminars may even have adverse effect as summarized by Resnik.

While most people would endorse this as a worth-while goal, research has produced little evidence that RCR education actually helps to achieve it … Moreover, some studies have shown that RCR education may be associated with certain of unethical attitudes or misbehaviors.

According to Anderson training in research ethics was positively associated with problematic behavior. Inherently dishonest people remain dishonest.

So if we believe Satalkar, Bonn, Resnik and Anderson – the system has to change with a high entry gate for dishonest people.

Libet Experiment (Freie Wille, Bewusstseinsmodelle VII)

Das berühmte Libet Experiment gilt heute als obsolet

Das gemessene „Bereitschaftspotential“ sei jedenfalls kein Beweis dafür, dass der Mensch seine Entscheidungen durch das Gehirn diktiert bekommt. „Diesen Determinismus gibt es nicht.“ Nichts spricht bisher dafür, dass diese Hirnströme das Handeln steuern, dass unser freie Wille eine Illusion ist.

Die fundierte Kritik wurde von Clarke zusammengefasst

Most of the criticism focused on difficulties of judging the time of awareness, of interpreting the RP or of philosophical interpretation.

Spannend ist  der “point of no return” wobei ich einen etwas anderen Versuchsaufbau wählen würde. Verkehrssituation über Video mit Annäherung an eine Ampel einspielen, welche mit Gelb eine Entscheidung erzwingt, zwischen weiter fahren oder bremsen. Gelbe Leuchtzeit vom Ampelabstand/Geschwindigkeit varieren, wobei die Reaktionsart bzw Reaktionszeit weniger wichtig sind wie die jeweiligen APs sind. In der zweiten Runde dann Bewusstsein einschränken (Müdigkeit, C2H5OH, THC…)

Is science self-correcting?

This was the recent (friendly) response of an editor. He wrote to me, that if any real errors, would be corrected by later papers.

I don’t think so. Even if somebody else will notice the errors, it will not be published. Even if published it will not be noticed. @aceilalkhatib pointed me to Sci Eng Ethics (2017) 23:1213–1226 “Fortifying the Corrective Nature of Post-publication Peer Review: Identifying Weaknesses, Use of Journal Clubs, and Rewarding Conscientious Behavior”, a great paper that clearly says

Science is currently not a spontaneously self-corrective process because moral values will always fluctuate or because there will always be deficits in credibility, in part as a result of the wide social background or economic status of scientists around the world. Rather, the correction of science, and its literature, is a pro-active process that requires the involvement of conscientious individuals who would like to replicate studies and who intend to engage with each other to see such errors eliminated.



Graphical abstracts: dangerous and ugly

I see all these graphical abstracts in Elsevier papers along with instructions like “please use Times, Arial, Courier or Symbol font”. The intention behind these drawings is probably a “cut & paste template” for busy congress speakers. But there are strong and weak arguments against this practice.
The strong argument: It is my task as a speaker to carefully read an article, find out out strengths and weakness, and put the results into context. Just cut & paste a graphical abstract is inacceptable sloppiness.
And the weak argument: As drawn by lay people, most of these graphical abstracts are ugly, hard to understand and biased. They often steal other ideas and concepts, making art directors, illustrators, typesetter, typographer, and designer unemployed.
For a more in depth analysis see an essay by Nico Pitrelli...