Articles to 2019-08-01

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First the link to this week's complete list as HTML and as PDF.


As per usual we are not shown any data in Breda & Napp but only tabulated and ill specified regression results. In this case, though, that happens to suffice towards making a judgement. By definition deciles are an undistorted and unskewed measure along any axis. Every decile contains an equal number of individuals or data points and any grand average across deciles must be uninfluenced and unchanged by any reordering or regrouping along the abscissa. Specifically the grand averages for all boys and all girls and more importantly the difference between the two must not change with abscissal scaling in figures 1 a–c.

And yes, this is taking into account the optical illusion of the much smaller perpendicular distance between the curves in figure 1c than the relevant vertical distance. It is still only about half as large as the ones in 1a and 1b. The same thing is even more obvious for figures 2 and S2. On top of that the difference in figure 1c stays exactly the same from the first to the last decile. So any regression of that difference on the abscissal value, the divergence of maths versus reading ability, must yield near zero and can't carry any statistical weight whatsoever. All the figures above are in stark contrast to figure S1a and the claim to derive the latter from the former has to be a methodological nonsense. One might look closer into the details, but I have by now lost all inclination to do so.

Anecdotally the implicit claim , that most of the scientists I know ought to be substandard readers, is utter rubbish and not even true for the known dyslexics among them.


It seems it has come to the point, that Neal Stephenson is now regularly reviewed in both Science and Nature, as far as I can recall the only novelist to be granted that privilege. I've not yet finished his newest Fall (lists of 2019-06-09 and 07-13) and leave any thoughts on the main plot to you. In a subthread he comments on the current downfall and breakdown of the scientific world view.

Enoch pondered it for a bit. “I would say that the ability of people to agree on matters of fact not immediately visible—states of affairs removed from them in space and time—ramped up from a baseline of approximately zero to a pretty high level around the time of the scientific revolution and all that, and stayed there and became more globally distributed up through the Cronkite era, and then dropped to zero incredibly quickly when the Internet came along. And I think that the main thing it conferred on people was social mobility, so that if you were a smart kid growing up on a farm in Kansas or a slum in India you had a chance to do something interesting with your life. Before it—before that three-hundred-year run when there was a way for people to agree on facts—we had kings and warlords and rigid social hierarchy. During it, a lot of brainpower got unlocked and things got a lot better materially. A lot better. Now we're back in a situation where the people who have the power and the money can get what they want by dictating what the mass of people ought to believe.”

Contrary to him, for whom it's indicative of a new class divide, I see it happening in academia and its most prestigious journals. This is the centre of my concern. He also repeats a point, I too have noted a long time ago.

“Listen,” Enoch said, “there is a long and honorable history, dating back to the Royal Society, of the gentleman scientist. And now the lady scientist. We don't like to acknowledge it because we wish to maintain a polite facade of egalitarianism. But there's a reason why so many important theorems are named after members of the titled nobility of Europe.”

In its beginning, science was the pursuit of rich, independently wealthy individuals spending their own money on seeking insight as its own goal, or at least financially secure country parsons free to follow their whims. Later the Ordinarienuniversität artificially placed promising individuals into a similar kind of privileged position. This too worked acceptably well as long as it was at the discretion of individuals, not committees. The downfall began when science became a career and source of income, and the pursuit of knowledge or its pretense changed from a primary goal into a means for advancement. What counts now is the impact, not the content, much less the truth of a publication. What would Darwin's writing have looked like, if instead of taking thirty years he'd had to fulfil a set deadline of six months?

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