Failure in Science

I’ve been thinking about how we often paper over the flaws in science because they don’t fit into 7,000 to 10,000 word journal articles. Failure and mistakes in science don’t invalidate the scientific process. Not talking about the things that go wrong can be damaging for early career researchers.  

The beautiful aspect of this quote by Columbia biologist Stuart Firestein is his celebration of the messiness of scientific discovery.

“Much of science is failure, but it is a productive failure. This is a crucial distinction in how we think about failure. More importantly is that not all wrong science is bad science. As with the exaggerated expectations of scientific progress, expectations about the validity of scientific results have simply become overblown. Scientific “facts” are all provisional, all needing revision or sometimes even outright upending. But this is not bad; indeed it is critical to continued progress. Granted it’s difficult, because you can’t just believe everything you read. But let’s grow up and recognize that undeniable fact of life…

So what’s the worry? That we will become irrationally impatient with science, with it’s wrong turns and occasional blind alleys, with its temporary results that need constant revision. And we will lose our trust and belief in science as the single best way to understand the physical universe. . . . From a historical perspective the path to discovery may seem clear, but the reality is that there are twists and turns and reversals and failures and cul de sacs all along the path to any discovery. Facts are not immutable and discoveries are provisional. This is the messy process of science. We should worry that our unrealistic expectations will destroy this amazing mess.”

Quote via Brainpickings: http://goo.gl/SsHPIW

 

Earworms: How and Why Music Gets Stuck in Your Head

Have you ever had a song playing in  your mind that you just can’t tune out? The social science term for this is “involuntary musical imagery” (IMI) otherwise known as an “earworm.” In this post, I’ll discuss research about IMI, focusing on data from a study by Victoria Williamson and colleagues tracing the “earworm” phenomenon. I end by discussing some gaps in the research, and I reflect on my experiences with earworms.

Much of our thinking happens without our conscious attention. Involuntary thoughts are always running in the back of our brains. These unconscious thoughts happen spontaneously, but they reflect our prior experiences. So why do earworms exist? It turns out that they serve both a functional and a socio-psychological purpose.

Continue reading Earworms: How and Why Music Gets Stuck in Your Head

Why Women Choose to Remain Child-Free

Tauriq Moosa has looked at the bizarre stigma around people – especially women – who voluntarily decide not to procreate. This includes: 

  • Not having children is a ‘bad decision’
  • Life is meaningless without children
  • ‘You’re a “crazy” cat lady in training.’ (This is ableist and so doubly awful)
  • The decision is selfish and you’ll eventually regret it
  • ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right man’
  • ‘What are you waiting for?’
  • ‘Your biological clock is ticking’
  • ‘You’d be a great mum’
  • ‘You think you don’t want kids but when you have them you’ll change your mind’
  • Your partner will eventually leave you unless you have kids
  • ‘You don’t know what real love is’
  • No one will be around to look after you when you’re old.

There’s some excellent sociology on this topic of why people choose to remain child-free. For example, Janet Wheeler notes that in Australia, 24% of women are child-free, and only 7% of this is due to infertility. The rest are a mixture of circumstance (e.g. break-up of a relationship) or a conscious decision not to have children.

Continue reading Why Women Choose to Remain Child-Free

Why Correlation is not Causation: Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia

As so often happens, a post from Science on Google+, a community I help moderate, has got me thinking about how easy it is for headlines to quickly lead to #ScienceMediaHype . A post with a link to a news story has the headline, “Teen Marijuana Use Linked with Schizophrenia.” As a sociologist with an interest in mental health, this sets off alarm bells. The discussion on our community quickly turned into a debate about the correlation presented in the headline. As a few of our community members pointed out, correlation does not equal causation.  My post provides a summary of the actual study and I discuss the sociological problems associated with media coverage of mental illness. Continue reading Why Correlation is not Causation: Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia

Science Funding Cuts in Australia

 

Catriona Wimberley, PhD candidate in medical physics, is studying neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. She has written a great piece for SBS News, arguing that in the current political climate, the future direction of scientific research in Australia is bleak.  Continue reading Science Funding Cuts in Australia

How to Make Surveys Inclusive of Transgender and Intersex People

Tips from xxboy:

Researchers, take note.

It is incredibly disappointing (not to mention invalidating and possibly dysphoria-inducing) for a trans* or intersex person to voluntarily begin a survey being advertised to the LGBT or LGBTQI+ community only to have their identity/identities not represented. And this happens ALL the time.

Fortunately, there are actually really easy ways that people constructing and promoting these surveys can avoid this! And if you don’t do LGBTQI+-specific research, most of these rules, specifically those tackling demographic questionnaires, will still be relevant to you! Continue reading How to Make Surveys Inclusive of Transgender and Intersex People

Video on the Sociology of Evaluation

I made a video for my educational website, Sociology at Work. We have a new YouTube channel that will feature interviews with sociologists about how they use sociology outside academia. Our first guest is Dr Yoland Wadsworth who has been working in community services and evaluation for over four decades.

Continue reading Video on the Sociology of Evaluation

19th Century Migrants in North Head in Manly, Sydney

In the 19th century, North Head in Manly, Sydney, became established as Australia’s oldest quarantine station. SBS Australia has chronicled the evolving archaeological study of this historic site. Over 13,000 migrants from all over the world were quarantined there between 1828 and 1984. Archaeologist Annie Clarke says around 580, 600 people died and were buried in three cemeteries at the station. Many more became ill, while others survived and were resettled in Australian society. Clarke is studying over 100 inscriptions on the site, put there by migrants, and her team of researchers are also interviewing descendants of these migrants who arrived by sea.

Continue reading 19th Century Migrants in North Head in Manly, Sydney

Science as Creative Learning

The research on “emotional learning” in science presents an interesting model for engaging young people in science. As Dr Louisa Tomas Engel explains in the video  below, young people’s interest in science drops dramatically in the middle years of school. Tomas  Engel’s broader research draws on new pedagogical practices which aim to help young people see science as a creative endeavour, rather than a memory retention exercise. This research may be of interest to science educators, biodiversity researchers, as well as other scientists who are eager to grow public outreach.

Continue reading Science as Creative Learning

Sexual Harassment in Anthropology

A preliminary survey of 98 women and 23 male anthropologists finds 30% have been verbally abused whilst carrying out field work. A further 63% of women and 39% of men have faced sexualised comments in the field and 21% of women have been physically harassed – mostly by senior researchers in their field team. The study is being extended as more field researchers come forward and share their stories.

One of the study’s researchers, Professor Kathryn Clancy, says that as more people complete the survey, it is apparent that sexual abuse in the field is more common, but women researchers do not speak up fearing the consequences on their academic careers:

“Taken together, these factors result in a particularly vulnerable population of victims and witnesses powerless to intervene. As a discipline, we need to recognize and remedy that an appreciable non-zero number of our junior colleagues, particularly women, are having to endure harassment and a hostile work environment in order to be scientists.”