Articles to 2011-07-01

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As always Boyd and Richerson are pure gold. It seems humans are not smarter than apes, in fact according to Whiten 2009 they seem to be less so, but base their success on being better plagiarists. Naturally then among themselves too it is plagiarists that are most successful and rise to government, so the treatment of former Dres. Guttenberg, Koch-Mehrin and Chatzimarkakis is quite unfair. On a more serious note humans are apt to follow the perceived majority even when their own best judgement suggests otherwise. Note the "perceived" in there, this heuristic, having worked well for millennia, makes us rather prone to manipulation today. It confirms my passionate hatred of television and the wholly distorted view of the world it presents.

Morduch and Karlan are another example of quantitative analysis coming to different results than anecdotal evidence compiled by interested parties as commonly used in the political "sciences". I particularly like the truly blind randomisation employed here even though the unblind analysis (unfortunately unavoidable here) does throw open the door to some bias.

I am very unhappy about the tone of the Kintish article about Mashey. True, plagiarism is fraud and when used to obtain degrees or promotion must be flushed out and prosecuted. It should also be pointed out unambiguously in an amendment and correction to a published article. Retraction is something else though. An article is rightly retracted when its contents are fabricated like in the cases of Schoen and Hwang or when an honestly reported result proves to be irreproducible. (N.B: In the scientific age published results used to be replicated elsewhere as a matter of course. This is now no longer deemed worth financing. Feynman already warned about this decades ago. See also the Editorial.) A retraction is seen as invalidating the content of published results, which in Wegman’s case clearly is not warranted. While Mashey entirely argues ad hominem, ignoring content, McIntyre’s critique of Mann’s hockey stick was about the science alone. In spite of Mann withholding raw data and methods on request (in itself an unscientific stance), McIntyre inferred them from the publication and managed to replicate the hockey stick shape from purely random data, proving Mann’s method to be flawed. Orthodoxy, appeals to authority, and arguments ad hominem are just what the scientific method is supposed to have superceded.

Wood and Ferring throw serious doubt on Out-of-Africa-I. The dates now reported leave very little time between the first arrival of non-Australopthecines and worldwide dispersal of Homo erectus. Still I do notice how Ferring’s "possible" in the main text mutates into "probably" in the abstract, an assignation I don’t see warranted by the facts as known today.

Jaquet and Santos (together with Bateson 2006, Milinski 2002, Sommerfeld 2007) tackle the open question of the evolution of selflessness. All the experiments Milinski was involved in are exemplary in their cleanliness and rigour. I have my doubts about the validity of Santos for the problems he claims to tackle. The main dilemmata he specifies are single-round games where negative outcomes are irredeemable and I don’t see how his local evolution can work when the true underlying variable deciding about success in a round is global. Still it may be applicable to less intractable problems involving milliards (billions to exaggerating Americans) of people.

Here’s the link to this week’s complete list.

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