DC's Improbable Science

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

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NICE rejects acupuncture for low back pain

March 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments

Of all types of alternative medicine, acupuncture is the one that has received the most approval from regular medicine. The benefit of that is that it’s been tested more thoroughly than most others. The result is now clear. It doesn’t work. See the evidence in Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo.
This blog has documented many cases […]

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Tags: acupuncture · Back pain · NICE

Statistics and the law: the prosecutor’s fallacy

March 22nd, 2016 · 7 Comments

This post arose from a recent meeting at the Royal Society. It was organised by Julie Maxton to discuss the application of statistical methods to legal problems. I found myself sitting next to an Appeal Court Judge who wanted more explanation of the ideas. Here it is.
Some preliminaries
The paper that I wrote recently was a […]

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Tags: Law · statistics

Placebo effects are weak: regression to the mean is the main reason ineffective treatments appear to work

December 11th, 2015 · 20 Comments

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“Statistical regression to the mean predicts that patients selected for abnormalcy will, on the average, tend to improve. We argue that most improvements attributed to the placebo effect are actually instances of statistical regression.”
“Thus, we urge caution in interpreting patient improvements as causal effects of our actions and should avoid the conceit of […]

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Tags: acupuncture · CAM · placebo · publishing · quackademia · random · randomisation · randomization · RCT · regression to the mean · reproducibility · statistics

How long until the next bomb? Why there’s no reason to think that nuclear deterrence works

October 24th, 2015 · 4 Comments

Every day one sees politicians on TV assuring us that nuclear deterrence works because there no nuclear weapon has been exploded in anger since 1945. They clearly have no understanding of statistics.
With a few plausible assumptions, we can easily calculate that the time until the next bomb explodes could be as little as 20 years. […]

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Tags: Politicians · politics

The perils of P values, in Chalkdust magazine

October 6th, 2015 · 7 Comments

Chalkdust is a magazine published by students of maths from UCL Mathematics department. Judging by its first issue, it’s an excellent vehicle for popularisation of maths. I have a piece in the second issue
You can view the whole second issue on line, or download a pdf of the whole issue. Or a pdf of my […]

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Tags: statistics

Stefan Grimm (1963 – 2014). A memorial to a victim of managerialism

September 24th, 2015 · 7 Comments

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Today, 25 September, is the first anniversary of the needless death of Stefan Grimm. This post is intended as a memorial.
He should be remembered, in the hope that some good can come from his death.

On 1 December 2014, I published the last email from Stefan Grimm, under the title “Publish and perish […]

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Tags: Academia · business · corporate · corruption · Imperial · metrics

The diary: June 2015 – May 2016

August 23rd, 2015 · No 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 […]

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There are powerful currents whipping up the metric tide. The HEFCE metrics report

July 9th, 2015 · 3 Comments

This is very quick synopsis of the 500 pages of a report on the use of metrics in the assessment of research. It’s by far the most thorough bit of work I’ve seen on the topic. It was written by a group, chaired by James Wilsdon, to investigate the possible role of metrics […]

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Tags: Academia · HEFCE

Are women still at a disadvantage in science?

June 15th, 2015 · 20 Comments

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There can be no doubt that the situation for women has improved hugely since I started at UCL, 50 years ago. At that time women were not allowed in the senior common room. It’s improved even more since the 1930s (read about the attitude of the great statistician, Ronald Fisher, to Florence Nightinglale […]

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Tags: diversity · racism · Research Councils · Research Funding · Research managers · Royal fellows · Royal Society · UCL · University College London · women

Prince Charles’ letters confirm that he’s not fit to be king

May 15th, 2015 · 7 Comments

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This post was written for the Spectator Health section, at short notice after the release of the spider letters. The following version is almost the same as appeared there, with a few updates. Some of the later sections are self-plagiarised from earlier posts.

Picture: Getty
The age of enlightenment was a beautiful thing. […]

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Tags: Duchy Originals · Foundation for Integrated Health · Freedom of Information Act · Prince Charles · Prince of Wales · Prince's Foundation

The reproducibility of Science. A meeting report.

April 14th, 2015 · 1 Comment

There is a widespread belief that science is going through a crisis of reproducibility.  A meeting was held to discuss the problem.  It was organised by Academy of Medical Sciences, the Wellcome Trust, MRC and BBSRC, and It was chaired by Dorothy Bishop (of whose blog I’m a huge fan).  It’s […]

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Tags: Human resources · Imperial · reproducibility · University College London · University of Sheffield

The death of Stefan Grimm was “needless”. And Imperial has done nothing to prevent it happening again

April 9th, 2015 · 8 Comments

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The last email of Stefan Grimm, and its follow-up post, has been read over 195,000 times now.
After Grimm’s death, Imperial announced that it would investigate itself The report is now available.

Performance Management: Review of policies, procedures and support available to staff
Following the tragic death of a member of the College’s staff community, […]

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Tags: Academia · Imperial

The University of Warwick brings itself into disrepute -four times. Watch your tone of voice.

April 8th, 2015 · 3 Comments

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The University of Warwick seems determined to wrest the title of worst employer from Imperial College London and Queen Mary College London. In little over a year, Warwick has had four lots of disastrous publicity, all self-inflicted.

First came the affair of Thomas Docherty.
Thomas Docherty
Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Thomas Docherty […]

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Tags: Academia

Herbs get the push: no statutory regulation for western herbalists or Traditional Chinese Medicine

March 30th, 2015 · 9 Comments

It makes a nice change to be able to compliment an official government report.

Ever since the House of Lords report in 2000, the government has been vacillating about what should be done about herbalists. At the moment both western herbalists and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are essentially unregulated. Many (but not all) herbalists have been […]

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Tags: Academia · Chinese medicine · Harry Cayton · Health Professions Council · herbal medicine · herbalism · Michael Driscoll · Middlesex university · Pittilo · Prince Charles · Professional Standards Authority · University of Westminster

What to do about research assessment (the REF)?
A proposal for two-stage university education

February 1st, 2015 · 9 Comments

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DOI: 10.15200/winn.142809.94999
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the latest in a series of 6-yearly attempts to assess the quality of research in UK universities. It’s used to decide how to allocate about £1.6 billion per year of taxpayers’ money, the so-called "quality-related" (QR) allocation.

It could have been done a lot worse. […]

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Tags: Academia · Education · Universities