Doing Science

Is ordering shitte from Sigma “doing science”? Is mixing salts and buffers into Ringer’s solution “doing science”? Is pouring Ringer’s in a dish “doing science”? Is putting an animal in the dish of Ringer’s and cutting the motherfucker open “doing science”? Is sitting in your office and thinking up shitte “doing science”? Is writing a fucken manuscript “doing science”? Is writing a fucken grant “doing science”? Is inputting data into a motherfucken Excel spreadsheet “doing science”? Is taking normal rat chow away from your rats and replacing it with high-fat chow “doing science”? Is writing a Matlab script to analyze data “doing science”? Is using Matlab to make a figure illustrating your data “doing science”?

Is showing a technician how to perform a ligation “doing science”? Is doing a ligation “doing science”? Is puling an electrode “doing science”? Is firepolishing the electrode “doing science”? Is chlorideing your electrode wire “doing science”? Is patching onto a cell “doing science”? Is failing to get a decent seal “doing science”? Is talking to your colleagues at a conference “doing science”? Is talking to your Chair “doing science”? Is talking to your Dean “doing science”? Is giving a seminar at UCSF “doing science”? Is giving a seminar at your local high-school “doing science”? Is talking to your Program Officer about your grant aims “doing science”? Is talking to your lab members about your grant aims “doing science”? Is talking to your mother about your grant aims “doing science”?

The fact of the matter is that what clueless self-absorbed dumshittes (see the comments) consider to be “doing science” are the aspects of science that they like doing and are good at. Everything else they consider “not doing science”. It is juvenile and pathetic, and a sign of real immaturity and inability to understand the larger context in which things occur. Science is a complex human enterprise with a vast number of interlocking elements, some technical, some social, some economic, and some rhetorical. It is not a task that someone either is or isn’t performing.

The Illusion of Control: Political And Professional Reality

Amanda Marcotte has a very interesting post up at Pandagon today, in which she deconstructs political purity demands (e.g., Obama didn’t achieve single-payer as part of health-care reform, so therefore he is just as bad as McCain would have been, and in 2012, I may as well vote for the Republican candidate even though I consider myself a Democrat) as essentially deriving from unbridled control-freakism. Here analysis is very detailed and well-considered, and I urge you to go read it there for the full political implications.

What I do want to treat in a little more detail here is her diagnosis and prescription for keeping this tendency from getting the best of you:

[T]he illusion of control ironically diminishes your power in the world. Time spent chasing phantoms is time not spent doing the hard work of trying to exert influence.

This is a very important insight not just for dealing with political reality, but for dealing with personal and professional reality. For example, there is a vocal contingent of highly disgruntled NIH grant applicants who—when they have trouble getting their grants funded in this admittedly very difficult fiscal climate—rant and rave about how the peer review system that is the basis for allocating limited available funds is “corrupt” and “broken” and demand “immediate reform” (see here for an illustrative recent example). As Amanda points out, this time spent chasing phantoms does nothing but distract attention and divert effort from doing the hard work of trying to understand how things really work and doing your best to achieve your goals int he context of that well-formed understanding of reality.

Does Reuters Not Have Fact-Checkers?

From an article today from Reuters, see how many blatantly and unambiguously false statements of fact you can spot in this single paragraph:

The president has few tools left to stoke growth. Fiscal stimulus efforts during the 2008-2009 recession, including a multibillion-dollar auto industry bailout, have vastly expanded the budget deficit. Now the United States is under market pressure to slash it or face higher funding costs.

As Brad Delong frequently says–albeit more politely: For the love of fucken godde, why can’t we have a better motherfucken press corps? When supposedly impartial news outlets like Reuters flat out fucken lie to the American people like this about issues of tremendous importance on a consistent basis, is it any surprise that our political economy is an abject fucken dumpster fire?

Correlation And Causation

In a paper published this week in Infection and Immunity (IAI) by Ferric Fang and Arturo Casadevall, “Retracted Science and the Retraction Index.”, the authors have calculated what they are calling the “retraction index” for various scientific journals and plotted it against the impact factors for those same journals:

(Image linked from a post on Retraction Watch. h/t DrugMonkey)

The retraction index for a journal is the number of retractions from 2001 to 2010, times one thousand, divided by the number of published articles. Although the authors are careful to not claim a causal relationship between impact factor and retraction index, they are clearly implying that the higher retraction indexes of high impact journals represents something bad about those journals relative to other journals.

Here is an alternative hypothesis. The reason high impact factor journals have more retractions than low impact factor journals is that there is much less chance of getting away with shitte in a publication in a high impact factor journal: fucketonnes more people read the shitte and fucketonnes more people try to build on the shitte. The low impact factor literature is riddled with bogus shitte that never gets retracted because no one reads itte, no one tries to build upon itte, and no one gives a shitte.

Ponderables

Is the Obama administration correct that American citizens are incapable of understanding the macroeconomic mechanisms by which an immediate sharp increase in short-term federal deficit spending can lead to a dramatic decrease in long-term deficits (and, hence, debt)? Should we be insulted that they think we are so fucken stupid?