Unpublished results and the decline effect

Many positive scientific effects published in the literature seem to diminish in their significance with time; this is known as the decline effect. For example, initial parapsychological research indicated evidence for psychic ability, but this effect declined with subsequent studies. Some scientists link this to the strange statistical effect called regression to the mean: the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, by the second measurement it will be closer to the average. It is impossible to test this, however, without access to negative results of scientific studies.

Most negative results of scientific experiments remain unpublished. This is a pervasive problem the world over, and is likely to be skewing the available scientific data pertaining to certain phenomena. When it turned out Eli Lilly (the makers of antidepressants like Prozac) had withheld the results of about a third of the trials conducted to win government approval, the clinical community was up in arms. Unfortunately, this is par the course for Continue reading “Unpublished results and the decline effect”


Its a scientifically un-certain fact.

Its all so obvious.

We all know that science is a construct of unquestionable truth about the world.  This is drummed in to every school child, almost doctrinally, for several years (and, in this author’s experience, for an upsettingly long time at university as well).  Admittedly it is portrayed as an ever-changing, evolving truth, not only in the context of how each year the explanation of a particular concept is given increasingly refined detail, but also in how science is studied itself, moving from simpler concepts to more complex ones, leading us to wonder where the buck finally stops.  And that is usually conceived of as being someone, somewhere, even if they are Einstein-esque and would struggle to fill a string quartet with contemporaries who understand them, who really knows how something works, or is.  And that should be comforting to all budding scientists. Continue reading “Its a scientifically un-certain fact.”

There’s no success quite like failure

In this week’s Wired magazine there’s an article on the way scientists think. “We’ve heard this all before,” I hear you savvy-with-the-philosophy-of-science readers say. Right. And the results reported are similar to what we’ve heard before too: scientists interpret anomalies as methodologically generated, and so removable from their data, until that is no longer an option, and a change of how one goes about interpreting the data is required (cf. Kuhn on anomalies). If Popper ever meant to describe what scientists actually do, he would have been quite wrong.

The supposed novelty of the work reported by Wired is Continue reading “There’s no success quite like failure”