DC's Improbable Science

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

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

February 1st, 2015 · 9 Comments

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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. One of […]

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Tags: Academia · Education · Universities

Duchess in the soup. Sarah Ferguson in quack diet scam

January 15th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Sarah Ferguson, ex-wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, seems to need a lot of money. Some of her wheezes are listed in today’s Times. That’s behind a paywall, as is the version reproduced in The Australian (Murdoch connection presumably). You can read it (free) here, with more details below the article.

Thomas Ough […]

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Tags: advertisements · Duchess Discoveries · Duchy Originals · Duke of York · fraud · nutribollocks · nutrition · Prince Andrew · Sarah Ferguson · Uncategorized

Some experiences of life at Imperial College London. An external inquiry is needed after the death of Stefan Grimm

December 23rd, 2014 · 10 Comments

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The tragedy of the apparent suicide of Stefan Grimm is now known worldwide. His last email has been read by more than 160,000 people from over 200 countries. This post gathers together some of the reactions to his death. It’s a Christmas card for the people who are responsible.

Alice Gast (president)

James Stirling (provost)

Dermot […]

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Tags: Academia · Imperial

Publish and perish at Imperial College London: the death of Stefan Grimm

December 1st, 2014 · 49 Comments

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This week’s Times Higher Education carried a report of the death, at age 51, of Professor Stefan Grimm: Imperial College London to ‘review procedures’ after death of academic. He was professor of toxicology in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial.

Now Stefan Grimm is dead. Despite having a good publication record, he failed to […]

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Tags: Academia · bullying · Human resources · Imperial

What a paean from Ben Goldacre can do

November 16th, 2014 · No Comments

After an interchange on Twitter about how blogs get noticed, I commented that the best thing for me was being thrown off the UCL web site by Malcolm Grant, and the subsequent support that I got from Ben Goldacre. I am a big fan of just about everything that Goldacre has done. So are a […]

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Tags: Ann Walker · Ben Goldacre · herbal medicine · herbalism · UCL · University College London · University of Westminster · Westminster university

Two more cases of hype in glamour journals: magnets, cocoa and memory

November 2nd, 2014 · 5 Comments

In the course of thinking about metrics, I keep coming across cases of over-promoted research. An early case was “Why honey isn’t a wonder cough cure: more academic spin“. More recently, I noticed these examples.
“Effect of Vitamin E and Memantine on Functional Decline in Alzheimer Disease".(Spoiler -very little), published in the Journal of the […]

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Tags: Academia · altmetrics · Alzheimer's · Bad journalism · badscience · false discovery rate · Journalism · public engagement · Public relations · Public understanding · publishing · randomisation · randomization · RCT · science · science communication

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

October 24th, 2014 · 8 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 · 6 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 · 13 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 · 18 Comments

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Stop press. Financial report casts 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