Saturday, January 8, 2011

Weekend Wildcard

I try to make posts here roughly correspond to what we are covering in class (you don't have to feel quite as restricted) but because I have a life and because it gets hard posting every day I've decided to embrace a concept I dabbled with before - the weekend wildcard. Weekends are open to any posting on any topic of some relevance to the course.

Today is a great example because it pertains to science, the scientific method, how science is done and cards (wild or otherwise). All good fodder for an intro bio class. As some of you may have heard a leading psychology journal is about to publish an article providing evidence for ESP. Even the New York Times is writing about it:
Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage
Some of the experiments are a little odd to say the least:
In another experiment, Dr. Bem had subjects choose which of two curtains on a computer screen hid a photograph; the other curtain hid nothing but a blank screen.
A software program randomly posted a picture behind one curtain or the other — but only after the participant made a choice. Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.

You can read the actual paper here and a critique here.

The paper was reviewed by 4 referees before being accepted for publication. Should the extraordinary claims have required extraordinary evidence before publication? Should different papers have to meet different standards depending how well they fit our current paradigms? Is the publication of this paper helping or hindering the public perception of science? Is that even an issue scientists should be concerned with?

(I actually lied about having a life, posting here at 11:30 on a Saturday night kind of gives that away, but it does get tricky thinking of something to post every day, especially at the start of the class when we haven't covered very much.)

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