DC's Improbable Science

Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

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The Saatchi bill won’t find a cure for cancer, but it will encourage charlatans

October 24th, 2014 · 7 Comments

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Maurice Nathan Saatchi, Baron Saatchi is an advertising man who, with his brother, Charles Saatchi ("‘why tell the truth when a good lie will do?), became very rich by advertising cigarettes and the Conservative party. After his second wife died of cancer he introduced a private members bill in the House of Lords [...]

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Tags: business · CAM · cancer · Cancer act · Saatchi Bill

UCL’s senior common room and the Boston marathon: emancipation in the 1960s, and now

August 25th, 2014 · 8 Comments

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I have always been insanely proud to work at UCL. My first job was as an assistant lecturer. The famous pharmacologist, Heinz Otto Schild gave me that job in 1964, and apart from nine years, I have been there ever since. That’s 50 years. I love its godless tradition. I love its multi-faculty [...]

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Tags: A.V. Hill · UCL · University College London

Some more pharmacological history: the legend of the Brocken and the statistics of purity in heart

August 14th, 2014 · 5 Comments

This post follows directly from "Some pharmacological history: an exam from 1959". In that post, I related how two of my teachers in Leeds, James Dare and George Mogey, had encouraged my interest in statistcs. George Mogey had worked previously at the famous Wellcome Research Labs in Beckenham, Kent. He had been there at the [...]

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Tags: Bioassay · George Mogey · J.W. Trevan · Wellcome Labs Beckenham

What is meant by the "accuracy" of screening tests?

July 14th, 2014 · 5 Comments

The two posts on this blog about the hazards of s=ignificance testing have proved quite popular. See Part 1: the screening problem, and Part 2: Part 2: the false discovery rate. They’ve had over 20,000 hits already (though I still have to find a journal that will print the paper based on them).
Yet another [...]

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Tags: Alzheimer's · epidemiology · Screening · statistics

Should metrics be used to assess research performance? A submission to HEFCE

June 18th, 2014 · 10 Comments

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The Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) gives money to universities. The allocation that a university gets depends strongly on the periodical assessments of the quality of their research. Enormous amounts if time, energy and money go into preparing submissions for these assessments, and the assessment procedure distorts the behaviour of universities in [...]

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Tags: Academia · metrics · Research Councils · Research Funding

The diary: June 2014 – May 2015

June 12th, 2014 · 3 Comments

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This is a story of everyday researchers and teachers, struggling to do their job in a world pervaded by management bollocks.
This page is a continuation of the diary that started in June 2007, with the demise of UCL’s Pharmacology department (for the time being). It continued

from June 2008 to May 2009 [...]

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Bad financial management at Kings College London means VC Rick Trainor is firing 120 scientists

June 7th, 2014 · 16 Comments

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Stop press. Financial report cast’s doubt on Trainor’s claims
Science has a big problem. Most jobs are desperately insecure. It’s hard to do long term thorough work when you don’t know whether you’ll be able to pay your mortgage in a year’s time. The appalling career structure for young scientists has been the subject [...]

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Tags: Academia · assessment · HEFCE · management bollocks · managerialism · metrics · Rick Trainor · science · UUK

Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: a review

April 16th, 2014 · 4 Comments

This is a web version of a review of Peter Gotzsche’s book. It appeared in the April 2014 Healthwatch Newsletter. Read the whole newsletter. It has lots of good stuff. Their newsletters are here. Healthwatch has been exposing quackery since 1989. Their very first newsletter is still relevant.

Most new drugs and vaccines [...]

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Tags: Academia · badscience · Big Pharma · blogosphere

On the hazards of significance testing.

Part 2: the false discovery rate, or how not to make a fool of yourself with P values

March 24th, 2014 · 26 Comments

This post shows that if you declare that you have made a discovery when a significance test give P = 0.047, you will be wrong at least 30% of the time, and up to 80% of the time is the experiment is small.

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Tags: false discovery rate · statistics

On the hazards of significance testing. Part 1: the screening problem

March 10th, 2014 · 41 Comments

This post is about why screening healthy people is generally a bad idea. It is the first in a series of posts on the hazards of statistics.

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Tags: Screening · statistics

Some pharmacological history: an exam from 1959

February 6th, 2014 · 3 Comments

Last year, I was sent my answer paper for one of my final exams, taken in 1959. This has triggered a bout of shamelessly autobiographical nostalgia.

The answer sheets that I wrote had been kept by one of my teachers at Leeds, Dr George Mogey. After he died in 2003, aged 86, his widow, Audrey, [...]

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Tags: B.L. Welch · George Mogey · H.O. Schild · Pharmacology · statistics · University of Leeds

La Trobe University (Melbourne) takes money to promote quackery

February 5th, 2014 · No Comments

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This post is the original version of a post by Michael Vagg. It was posted at the Conversation but taken down within hours, on legal advice. Sadly, the Conversation has a track record for pusillanimous behaviour of this sort. It took minutes before the cached version reappeared on freezepage.com. I’m reposting it from [...]

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Tags: Academia

Why you should ignore altmetrics and other bibliometric nightmares

January 16th, 2014 · 15 Comments

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This discussion seemed to be of sufficient general interest that we submitted is as a feature to eLife, because this journal is one of the best steps into the future of scientific publishing. Sadly the features editor thought that " too much of the article is taken up with detailed criticisms [...]

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Tags: Academia · altmetrics · bibliometrics · open access · peer review · Public relations · publishing

Science is harmed by hype. How to live for 969 years.

December 31st, 2013 · 4 Comments

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[This an update of a 2006 post on my old blog]
The New York Times (17 January 2006) published a beautiful spoof that illustrates only too clearly some of the bad practices that have developed in real science (as well as in quackery). It shows that competition, when taken to excess, leads to dishonesty.
More [...]

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Tags: Alzheimer's · Anti-science · Bad journalism · Big Pharma · Universities · Vitamin

We know little about the effect of diet on health. That’s why so much is written about it

November 18th, 2013 · 20 Comments

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One of my scientific heroes is Bernard Katz. The closing words of his inaugural lecture, as professor of biophysics at UCL, hang on the wall of my office as a salutory reminder to refrain from talking about ‘how the brain works’. After speaking about his discoveries about synaptic transmission, he ended thus.

"My [...]

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Tags: badscience · Bernard Katz · nutribollocks · nutrition · nutritional therapy · randomisation · randomization · RCT · regulation