Monday, September 26, 2011

NORTON SCIENTIFIC-Norton: Donald Roberts, "Scientific Fraud", and DDT

In this piece Roger Bate, Donald Roberts and Richard Tren accuse the UN of "Scientific Fraud against DDT". Their Accusation is based on an Opinion paper byRoberts and Tren published in Research and Reports in Tropical Medicine. So let's look at their paper and see where the "Scientific Fraud" is.
Roberts and Tren's key argument is that reductions in malaria in the Americas were not the result of Global Environmental Facility interventions but were caused by increased use of antimalarial drugs. In their own words:
"However, their successes were not a result of the interventions we describe as components of the GEF project. Their successes were mostly a result of wide distributions of antimalarial drugs to suppress malaria (see Table 1). Data in the Table reveal trends of increased numbers of antimalarial pills distributed per diagnosed case and decreased numbers of cases. Equally obvious is the decreased numbers of pills distributed per diagnosed case, and increased numbers of cases in two countries (Costa Rica and Panama)."
So their argument rests on table 1. Here's table 1.
Country  pills/case  pills/case  % change in  % change             in 1990     in 2004   pills/case  in cases Mexico          235        2566         1092     -1307 Belize           21          82          390      -287 Costa Rica      653         100         -653       112 El Salvador      34       22802        67064     -8276 Guatemala        38          54          142      -144 Honduras         30          51          170      -338 Nicaragua       279        1319          473      -519 Panama          202         140         -144      1337 
The first thing that leaps out at you is that the table shows reductions of more than 100%, which is impossible. Panama cannot have experienced a decrease of 144% in pills/case. According to the two previous columns in the table there was a decrease from 202 to 140, which is a 31% reduction, not 144%. 202/140 is 144%, but it is not the case that the column contains the ratio of pill/case in 1990 divided by pills/case in 2004 (ie, is just labelled wrongly), because then the number for Guatemala would be 70%, not the 142% shown in the table. The column appears to show the bigger number divided by the smaller. That is, all the percent changes in that column are calculated incorrectly and the increases and decrease were calculated differently.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Norton Scientific: Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » The strange Quadrant hoax

Crikey, in one of its rare (if minor) scoops, reports that Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle was hoaxed into publishing this piece on scare campaigns and science reporting by mythical biotechnologist Sharon Gould.
But what point is this hoax intended to make?
According to the Crikey article,
In a ruse designed to lampoon Windschuttle’s historical research, which began by checking the footnotes of leading historians, the article contains some false references.
Maybe there is a very small irony here, but there is not much of an analogy. Academic historians writing on their own subject should be held to high standards of accuracy. Editors of generalist magazines publishing tens of thousands of other people’s words a month on a wide variety of topics cannot be expected to check every claim and every reference.
From a reader’s perspective, it’s hard to see the difference between the hoax article and the error-ridden piece Crikey published on think-tanks a few weeks ago, except that “Sharon Gould” lied about his/her true identity, and Crikey‘s Andrew Crook used his real name (I assume; I had never heard of him prior to this). They are both non-credible pieces that ideally should not have been published, but in a world of limited editorial resources they both slipped through the net.
Nor is it at all clear that this hoax has the meaning attributed to it by Crikeyjournalist Margaret Simons on her blog:
The sting of this hoax as I undertand it is to establish that despite its attacks on post-modern slackness, and despite Windschuttle’s nitpicking of other people’s research, despite the fulminating against academic slackness from the right, it is possible for Quadrant and Windschuttle to publish pseudo-scientific nonsense, so long as it appears to fit in with their ideological view. In other words, that zealotry of all kinds has the potential to make people blind to evidence that doesn’t fit in with their preconceptions, and more liable to accept and privilege evidence that pleases them.
The trouble with this interpretation is that there is nothing much in this article that particularly fits with the Quadrant worldview.
As I read the article, it has two main arguments. The first is that the views of the public are often ill-informed on science due to the way scientific findings are reported, and are given too much weight relative to the views of scientists. It would be hard to dispute that most members of the public are not scientific experts, and I doubt there are many experts on any subject who believe that the public’s less-informed opinions should prevail over their own. Such views could be found from people of almost any political perspective except populism.
The only hint that there could be some ideological angle here is the chosen example of genetically modified food. Some right-wingers have criticised what they regard as Green superstitions on this subject. But many conservatives of the type who readQuadrant would also have reservations about genetic modification.
And this makes it all the less likely that the second argument fits with the Quadrantideological worldview. This is that human genes be used to modify food. I’d be surprised if most conservatives did not oppose that.
For the hoax idea to work along these lines, it needed to be a climate change denialist piece – the one area in which Quadrant has been involved in a scientific debate that has acquired distinctive left-right ideological connotations. ButQuadrant is generally attacked on this for rejecting the scientific consensus, when on the logic of Simons’ ‘understanding’ the Quadrant orthodoxy would need to be an uncritical embrace of whatever scientists say.
If I had to guess why Windschuttle was attracted to this piece (which isn’t well written) it is that he thought it might be provocative, rather than because he thought his readers would be nodding in agreement. But he clearly didn’t think it was that noteworthy, as it appears on page 70 of the print version of the magazine. (His response to the hoax is here.)

Norton Scientific: \Zinder, Norton D. "Fraud in Science, A Scientist's View," Science 83 (January/February, 1983)

This is a review of Broad and Wade's Betrayers of the Truth. The author uses a subtitle which is
revealing: the loyalist responds to heresy not by seeing that something might be wrong, that there
may be some merit to this sort of reassessment, but by defending the ideology. Zinder has
managed to misread Broad and Wade in several places. There is sufficient misrepresentation to
mean that he read the book very selectively. "The authors continually confound science with
scientists. And the book not only fails to enlighten us on science but doesn't even begin to
provide any insight on scientific method." (p. 94)

"Thirty four cases of fraud over a 2,000 year period are documented in the book, a number
roughly comparable to the number of lawyers who went to jail for Watergate. Despite this small
number, the authors imply that scientific fraud is common. They estimate that there are 100
additional major frauds, plagiarisms, and data fabrications for each one detected..." That's not
Broad and Wade. If one wishes to criticize, one should use the more absurd figures used by them.
There is no need to fake it.

The reviewer cites the recent case of Spector, at Cornell, and suggests that the case was not really
a fraud at all. The very moment the announcement was made, there were skeptics who doubted.

The Spector case, this reviewer feels, is a poor example of fraud in science. His summary: "...the
authors took reports of scientific fraud and strung them together, claiming that their analysis
would reveal something profound about science. It doesn't. From fraud, one only learns about
fraud." (p. 95)