The incredible self-destructing psychologist

Holy crap. A Dutch social scientist’s career has just crashed flamingly. He apparently had a tremendous reputation.

“Somebody used the word ‘wunderkind’,” says Miles Hewstone, a social psychologist at the University of Oxford, UK. “He was one of the bright thrusting young stars of Dutch social psychology — highly published, highly cited, prize-winning, worked with lots of people, and very well thought of in the field.”

But maybe someone should have been made a bit suspicious by this behavior:

Many of Stapel’s students graduated without having ever run an experiment, the report says. Stapel told them that their time was better spent analyzing data and writing. The commission writes that Stapel was “lord of the data” in his collaborations. It says colleagues or students who asked to see raw data were given excuses or even threatened and insulted.

Graduate students who were not doing experiments, a PI who was, graduate students doing all the analysis and writing, a PI who wasn’t? This was an obvious inversion of the natural order. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! Such peculiar behavior should have alerted someone early on — data are primary.

And now, the denouement:

Diederik Stapel was suspended from his position at Tilburg University in the Netherlands in September after three junior researchers reported that they suspected scientific misconduct in his work. Soon after being confronted with the accusations, Stapel reportedly told university officials that some of his papers contained falsified data. The university launched an investigation, as did the University of Groningen and the University of Amsterdam, where Stapel had worked previously. The Tilburg commission today released an interim report (in Dutch), which includes preliminary results from all three investigations. The investigators found “several dozens of publications” in which fictitious data has been used. Fourteen of the 21 Ph.D. theses Stapel supervised are also tainted, the committee concluded.

Stapel has made a comment. I don’t think he understands what he has done at all.

Stapel initially cooperated with the investi­gation by identifying fraudulent publications, but stopped because he said he was not physically or emotionally able to continue, says Levelt. In a statement, translated from Dutch, that is appended to the report, Stapel says: “I have made mistakes, but I was and am honestly concerned with the field of social psychology. I therefore regret the pain that I have caused others.” Nature was unable to contact Stapel for comment.

No, he was not honestly concerned with the field of social psychology. If he actually cared about what the evidence told him about the world, he wouldn’t have made it up. He was honestly concerned with the selfish goal of making a name for himself, nothing else.

He’ll never be trusted in any field of science ever again. He’s going to have to look for a new career…maybe theology, where making up data is a way of life.

(Also on FtB)

Traces of a Triassic Kraken?

At first I thought this discovery was really cool, because I love the idea of ancient giant cephalopods creating art and us finding the works now. But then, reality sinks in: that’s a genuinely, flamboyantly extravagant claim, and the evidence better be really, really solid. And it’s not. It’s actually rather pathetic.

It consists of the discovery of ichthyosaur vertebrae lying in a flattened array. They look like this.

i-08915103555b433da4ec5af02502d78a-shonisaur.jpeg
Photo shows shonisaur vertebral disks arranged in curious linear patters with almost geometric regularity. The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker.

Wait, what? That’s it?

This work was presented at a meeting of the GSA under the title “Triassic kraken: the Berlin ichthyosaur death assemblage interpreted as a giant cephalopod midden “, with this argument:

“It became very clear that something very odd was going on there,” said McMenamin. “It was a very odd configuration of bones.”

First of all, the different degrees of etching on the bones suggested that the shonisaurs were not all killed and buried at the same time. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged. That it got him thinking about a particular modern predator that is known for just this sort of intelligent manipulation of bones.

“Modern octopus will do this,” McMenamin said. What if there was an ancient, very large sort of octopus, like the kraken of mythology. “I think that these things were captured by the kraken and taken to the midden and the cephalopod would take them apart.”

In the fossil bed, some of the shonisaur vertebral disks are arranged in curious linear patterns with almost geometric regularity, McMenamin explained.The proposed Triassic kraken, which could have been the most intelligent invertebrate ever, arranged the vertebral discs in double line patterns, with individual pieces nesting in a fitted fashion as if they were part of a puzzle.

Even more creepy: The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. In other words, the vertebral disc “pavement” seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait.

Let me explain something here. This “Triassic kraken” has not been found; no fossils, no remains at all, no evidence of its existence. It is postulated to have been large enough to hunt and kill ichthyosaurs, which is remarkable—comparison to modern giant squid is invalid, since they are prey, not predator. This fossil bed is being over-interpreted as a trace fossil, with the bones arranged by intent, by an intelligent cephalopod, which they have not seen. Furthermore, a line of discs is being seen as a picture of a cephalopod tentacle, classic pareidolia. This is trivial: dump a pile of Necco wafers on a table, and I’ll see a picture of squid suckers. This is a whole series of tenuous and unlikely speculations stacked together to make an ultimately ridiculous hypothesis.

After I read the abstract and realization settled in that this was nonsense, something else was nagging me. That name, McMenamin — I’d heard it somewhere before. A little search, and there it was: I’ve encountered him tangentially before. He’s the geologist who so effulgently endorsed the imaginative pattern-spotting of Stuart Pivar. He also claims “that mariners of ancient Carthage made it to America long before Eriksson and Columbus, some time around 350 BC.”

I think I would concur with the idea that Mark McMenamin is exceptionally imaginative.

(Also on FtB)

Bob Enyart and Will Duffy, partners in idiocy

We’ve got another chittering weasel of a creationist raving in the comments, a fellow going by the name YesYouNeedJesus. He’s also sending me email.

PZ, I first heard about you on Bob Enyart’s radio show about the fact that you turned down an offer to debate Bob. I must say that my first impression of you is that you are smarter than most evolutionists. Smarter because the evolutionists that debate Bob get absolutely destroyed every time. Every evolutionist that I spoke to who was at the debate between Bob Enyart and Reasons to Believe willfully admitted that their side (evolution) lost. Bob’s debate with Eugenie Scott was just flat-out epic and is still my all-time favorite science debate. Of course they all made the mistake of debating Bob and you did not. You are smart, I’ll give you that. I think they made the mistake of underestimating Bob because he’s just a radio talk show host. Personally I think that Walt Brown is the greatest scientist of our day, but after Walt Brown, Bob is one of the most brilliant scientific minds I’ve ever listened to. I believe that the evolutionist’s new tactic is to avoid debating creationists because the arguments are just becoming impossible to refute. While that’s quite the tactical strategy and may work for a short time, it is encouraging to see the creation movement grow like a wildfire. And I do believe it’s just a short amount of time before we see evolution become the next ‘spontaneous generation’ and become obsolete. Don’t forget that if you dared question spontaneous generation, you were labeled as anti-science. Good luck to you. -Will

You read that, and apart from the creationist crazy, you get the impression that this guy is just someone with no ties to Enyart (other than his deep and abiding passionate love for him) who listened to the radio show, found out about these evilutionists, and ran over here to see what was up.

This is not the case. His name is Will Duffy, something revealed in the first few minutes of the video below, and he’s Bob Enyart’s producer.

You know, this kind of thing really bugs me. Why do you have to lie and mislead and conceal on the little, trivial things? Why hide the fact that you have a vested interest in Enyart’s show, and are actually deeply involved in the program? I see that, and right away, I know I’m dealing with a shameless liar for Jesus.

And then, of course, there’s the raving insanity. Walt Brown and Bob Enyart are the greatest scientists of the day? Someone alert the NAS and the Nobel Foundation!

Here’s the video. It’s a year old, and it’s a surprise to me (which goes to show how impressed I am with this Enyart freak). I dismissed a request to debate this kook — I’d just come off a debate with his loony pal, Jerry Bergman — and so he issued a challenge that I hadn’t even noticed until now.

He’s asking me to explain the origin of the superior oblique muscle, one of the extra-ocular muscles, which has a tendon that travels through a pulley-like strap called a trochlea. This muscle abducts and depresses the eye; try to look at your nose, and that’s one of the muscles responsible for pulling the eyeball in that direction. Enyart thinks the muscle would have been useless without the trochlear pulley, which is silly: the muscle could have had a different attachment in the orbit, or in the absence of the trochlea could have swiveled the eye upwards, or most likely of all, the suite of extra-ocular muscles and that little loop of tendon all co-evolved. We are well-integrated wholes, you know, and we didn’t evolve one toe at a time — nature selected for functionality as a complete organism.

OK, but Enyart has challenged me to explain how this feature evolved. I have an answer. It’s easy.

I don’t know.

I don’t see any obvious obstacle to an arrangement of muscles evolving, but I don’t know the details of this particular set. And there’s actually a very good reason for that.

This is a case where you have to step back from the creationist and look at the big picture. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Take a look at the whole context of the question.

We don’t know exactly how this evolved because all living vertebrates, with the exception of the lamprey, have the same arrangement of extra-ocular muscles. This is a primitive and very highly conserved condition, with no extant intermediates. We’ve seen the arrangement of these muscles in 400 million year old placoderm fossils, and they’re the same; these muscles probably evolved 450 million or more years ago, and we have no record of any intermediate state. So I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

But that’s where we have to look at the big picture: Bob Enyart, a raving loon and young earth creationist who thinks the whole planet is less than 10,000 years old, is asking me to recount the details of an event that occurred almost half a billion years ago. I should think it’s enough to shatter his position and show that he’s wrong to simply note that however it evolved, it happened in animals 75,000 times older than he claims the planet is. Has he even noticed this little problem with his question?

I don’t think “one of the most brilliant minds” has.

Further, another of Will Duffy’s rants here has made a strange demand. Mary Schweitzer and Jack Horner identified some peculiar soft tissue deep in a T. rex bone, which Schweitzer claims is preserved collagen or fragments of blood vessels. This has been disputed, and some claim it’s scraps of a bacterial biofilm. But the main thing is that an unusual and difficult to identify material was found in a Cretaceous bone.

Will Duffy wants it carbon-dated. The fossil has already been dated; it’s over 70 million years old. Carbon dating is only good up to a maximum age of about 50,000 years. He wants to hold a yardstick up against a mile-long object and ask how long it is. This makes no sense at all.

Bob Enyart called Jack Horner and offered him $20,000 to measure the C14 in the T. rex specimen. You can tell Horner is both stunned and amused at the stupidity of the request.

The age of the specimen is not in question, and even if it were, carbon dating is so absurdly inappropriate and useless that only an ignorant clown would ask to do it: it doesn’t matter what number would come out of the measurement, it would be spurious, irrelevant, and uninterpretable…except that, because C14 does have an upper bound of 50,000 years, whatever number reported would be less than that, which is exactly what the creationists are trusting would happen. They’d love to hold that yardstick up against the mile long object and triumphantly announce that it’s only 36 inches long.

“Brilliant mind,” hah. That’s not a brain, it’s a dingleberry with pretensions.

(Also on FtB)

An archaeologist watches the History Channel

And deeply regrets it.

It’s very sad. I remember when cable TV was new, and had such promise — there would be channels dedicated to specialty disciplines, that would pursue a niche doggedly for a slice of the audience. The History Channel would be about history, not von Daniken and Nazi UFOs; Discovery would be about science, not motorcycle enthusiasts and bargain hunters; the Learning Channel would be about learning, not octuplets and hoarding; the SciFi channel would actually present decent science-fiction, instead of schlock horror, ghost-hunters, and fake wrestling. Garbage conquered all, didn’t it?

(Also on FtB)

Dr Oz crosses the line

Usually, Oz just dispenses pointless pap and feel-good noise, but now he’s antagonized the agriculture lobby. On a recent show, he claimed that apple juice was loaded with deadly arsenic — a claim he supported by running quick&dirty chemical tests on fruit juices, getting crude estimates of total arsenic, and then going on the air to horrify parents with the thought that they were poisoning their children.

One problem: his tests weren’t measuring what he claimed. The FDA got word of the fear-mongering he was doing, and sent him a warning letter.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aware that EMSL Analytical, Inc. has obtained and tested 50 samples of retail apple juice for total arsenic content on behalf of Zoco Productions. It is our understanding that, based on these test results, you will assert during an upcoming episode of The Dr. Oz Show that apple juice is unsafe because of the amounts of total arsenic found in the samples.

We appreciate that you have made the results of these tests available to us. As we have previously advised you, the results from total arsenic tests CANNOT be used to determine whether a food is unsafe because of its arsenic content. We have explained to you that arsenic occurs naturally in many foods in both inorganic and organic forms and that only the inorganic forms of arsenic are toxic, depending on the amount. We have advised you that the test for total arsenic DOES NOT distinguish inorganic arsenic from organic arsenic.

The FDA has been aware of the potential for elevated levels of arsenic in fruit juices for many years and has been testing fruit juices for arsenic and other elemental contaminants as part of FDA’s toxic elements in foods program. The FDA typically tests juice samples for total arsenic first, because this test is rapid, accurate and cost effective. When total arsenic testing shows that a fruit juice sample has total arsenic in an amount greater than 23 parts per billion (ppb), we re-test the sample for its inorganic arsenic content. The vast majority of samples we have tested for total arsenic have less than 23 ppb. We consider the test results for inorganic arsenic on a case-by-case basis and take regulatory action as appropriate.

The analytical method for inorganic arsenic is much more complicated than the method for total arsenic. You can find the method that FDA uses to test for inorganic arsenic at this web address:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/ScienceResearch/LaboratoryMethods/ElementalAnalysisManualEAM/ucm219640.htm

The FDA believes that it would be irresponsible and misleading for The Dr. Oz Show to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic based solely on tests for total arsenic. Should The Dr. Oz Show choose to suggest that apple juice is unsafe because of the amounts of total arsenic found by EMSL Analytical, Inc.’s testing, the FDA will post this letter on its website.

His show got this letter that clearly explains why his measurements were invalid a week before the show was aired, and Oz ignored it and went ahead and broadcast a misleading and hysterical piece. Some public schools are already yanking apple juice from their lunchrooms on the basis of Oz’s lies.

Maybe somebody should explain to Oz that arsenic is entirely “natural”. Or maybe some orchard owners ought to get together for a big class-action suit.

(Also on FtB)

Somebody doesn’t understand basic genetics

Oh, boy. Look at these quotes from a recently published magazine article, and try to guess where they came from.

Scientists had also implicitly assumed that the X chromosomes in all women were identical.

We had? When?

The first comprehensive study of gene activity in the X chromosome of women reveals an unexpected level of variation among individual females. This extensive variation means there is not ONE human genome, but TWO – Male and Female.

This does not follow. There’s also individual variation in chromosome 7, and every other chromosome in the genome. Allelic and expression variation do not make for calling every variant a different genome.

Chromosomes are the set of genetic instructions that guide the creation of an organism. Every human embryo begins with two X chromosomes, but in order to be a male, one of the X chromosomes turns into a Y chromosome.

Wait, how? Could this happen even now? Watch out ladies: if you watch too much football, one of your X chromosomes might turn into a Y.

Depending on the gene, having two active copies can matter very little or very much. When genes on the second X chromosome that escape inactivation are expressed, this can create a stronger overall concentration of particular genes.

That started out just fine, and then degenerated into gobbledygook.

Have you figured it out? You’re probably thinking it’s some wacky creationist journal, because they are always written by people who don’t understand science and get the facts all wrong.

But no: it’s from Health & Wellness magazine, written by Angela Hoover. The editor of the magazine.

The title of the magazine is a clue. What the heck is “wellness”, and how is it different from “health”?

(Also on FtB)

The Space Shuttle gets a reasonable eulogy at last

It’s so good to see someone take off the rose-colored glasses and tell it like it is: the space shuttle was a flop.

The most important thing to realize about the space shuttle program is that it is objectively a failure. The shuttle was billed as a reusable craft that could frequently, safely, and cheaply bring people and payloads to low Earth orbit. NASA originally said the shuttles could handle 65 launches per year; the most launches it actually did in a year was nine; over the life of the program, it averaged five per year. NASA predicted each shuttle launch would cost $50 million; they actually averaged $450 million. NASA administrators said the risk of catastrophic failure was around one in 100,000; NASA engineers put the number closer to one in a hundred; a more recent report from NASA said the risk on early flights was one in nine. The failure rate was two out of 135 in the tests that matter most.

I first had my doubts after Challenger blew up; it wasn’t the failure of the mission that bothered me — I understood that it was risky — but NASA’s responses in the hearings afterwards. I watched those; it was where Richard Feynman really caught the public eye.

According to reports after the Challenger disaster, the ship exploded because of a faulty joint that included an O-ring hardened by especially cold conditions before launch. More importantly, this was far from an isolated problem, as illustrated by a report by Richard Feynman. Feynman slammed not only the O-ring error but the entire process of building and testing the shuttle, plus the management style and decision-making of NASA, for good measure. When he wrote, “Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality,” and, “They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space,” he meant they were at the time not living in reality, which is generally the place engineers ought to live. NASA’s recent report on shuttle safety found that the chance of making it through first 25 flights (#25 being Challenger’s last flight) was only 6%, and the chance of 88 safe flights between the Challenger and Columbia disasters was just 7%. If the study is accurate, then Challenger and Columbia weren’t freak accidents—the flights before them were freak successes.

I got the impression from those hearings that NASA had become an engineering bureaucracy, dedicated to dogmatic, almost ritualistic redundancy and caution, where following procedure, no matter how flawed, was always the answer. Feynman was fabulous cut through all the nonsense and just asked what worked and what didn’t.

Goodbye, old lemon. Let’s hope the next new model actually comes up to spec.

Professional science journalism

I’ve taken a few pokes at the bad science of Rhawn Joseph and the Journal of Cosmology over the years — for instance, in this post summarizing an article that was little more than a thinly threaded excuse to show off pictures of women in bikinis, or this post about their claim to have found bacteria in meteorites.

I think my criticism must have stung.

Check out the bikini post at the Journal of Cosmology now. It’s been removed, with the disclaimer, “CENSORED This Article Has Been Censored and Removed Due to Threats and Complaints Received.” I am amused. I wouldn’t take all the credit, since I’m sure many people found that article ludicrous to an extreme, except…

i-4ea72bc2564c194107f3cb5d95ffb8cf-jcosmo.jpeg

Well, this is really weird. Notice in the header for the journal’s online page that it gives two URLs: journalofcosmology.com takes you to the various articles in the journal, but they also own cosmology.com. Allow me to show you the front page for cosmology.com. I’ll preserve it here since I rather expect it will be pulled in embarrassment at some time in the future.

Cosmology.com is For Sale

Sale Price:

$100,000.00

Price Based on Estibot estimated value.

Contact:
ForSale AT Cosmology.com

Include your name, address, affiliation, and phone number or your inquiry will be ignored.

In Honor of P. Z. Myers


i-9b51d99ff1258d63cba6b0518b7955a9-PZMyersFatboyBW.jpeg
P. Z. Myers celebrating

Is P. Z. Myers a “frothing at the mouth lunatic” who raves about subjects he knows nothing about?
Absolutely not. There is no evidence of “frothing.”

Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011 All Rights Reserved

Ah, yes…because nothing says you’ve got a property worth $100,000 like slapping photoshopped pictures of my face on obese women’s bodies.

And look! They have a whole page dedicated to my honor! I wonder what level of professionalism we’ll see there? Just in case that goes away, too, I’ve put a copy below the fold.

[Read more…]