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Posts by Tom Bartlett

May 15, 2013, 01:30 PM ET

'The Strangest Conference I Ever Attended'

summagraphic David Birnbaum believes he has unified the fields of religion and science. He told me so in an e-mail. A book he wrote, Summa Metaphysica, Volumes I and II, "unifies the two fields—elegantly—and seemlessly" (sic). In April of last year, Bard College devoted a three-day* conference to the role of metaphysics in science and religion, prompted by the "reflections flowing" from Birnbaum's books, according to a program e-mailed to participants from prestigious institutions including Dartmouth, Grinnell, and Oxford. "We are especially pleased to announce that David Birnbaum will be present during discussion," the program enthused. Left unmentioned was that Birnbaum helped finance the conference, that he has no academic affiliation, and that his works are published by an entity that he himself runs, called "Harvard Matrix" or "Harvard Yard Press" or, as sometimes printed on the spines of... Read More

November 5, 2012, 06:38 PM ET

The Rise of the Poll Quants (or, Why Sam Wang Might Eat a Bug)

If you watched Meet the Press this past weekend, you learned that the presidential election was "statistically tied" and could be a "photo finish." The Associated Press predicted a "nail biter." The Philadelphia Inquirer threw up its hands, saying the vote was just "too close to call." Sam Wang begs to differ. By day, Wang is a neuroscientist at Princeton University, where his lab uses lasers to monitor the chemical signals of cells in the cerebellum. He co-wrote a recent paper that found that mathematics and science majors are more likely than humanities students to have a sibling on the autism spectrum. But in the evenings, after his wife and 5-year-old daughter are in bed, the 45-year-old turns his attention to polls. Since 2004, Wang has used his considerable data-crunching chops to forecast elections, publishing his results on Princeton Election Consortium, a very popular blog... Read More

September 5, 2012, 03:55 PM ET

Former Harvard Psychologist Fabricated and Falsified, Report Says

Marc Hauser was once among the big, impressive names in psychology, head of the Cognitive Evolution Laboratory at Harvard University, author of popular books like Moral Minds. That reputation unraveled when a university investigation found him responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct, which led to his resignation last year. Now the federal Office of Research Integrity has released its report on Hauser's actions, determining that he fabricated and falsified results from experiments. Here is a sampling:
  • Hauser published "fabricated data" in a paper on how cotton-top tamarin monkeys learn rules. In one of the graphs "half of the data" was made up. That paper has since been retracted.
  • Hauser falsified coding in two other experiments with tamarins "making the results statistically significant when the results coded by others showed them to be nonsignificant." Those experiments...
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August 30, 2012, 06:06 PM ET

Sociologist Defends Controversial Gay-Parenting Study in New Paper

In the introduction to a new paper answering his critics, Mark Regnerus writes that his gay-parenting study "raised a variety of questions" among readers. That is a bit of an understatement. The paper started a controversy that has yet to die down, with critics questioning the motives of Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as his research methods. The new paper, which is a commentary and not a peer-reviewed study, was published online on Monday, a couple of days before the University of Texas released the results of an inquiry into the original study that found no evidence of scientific misconduct. (The university's report did not rule out the possibility that the study might be "seriously flawed," finding only that there was no apparent ethical breach.) It's worth noting, again, that the audit of Regnerus's original paper by...

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August 29, 2012, 07:59 PM ET

U. of Texas Finds No Scientific Misconduct by Author of Gay-Parenting Study

An inquiry by the University of Texas at Austin has found no evidence of scientific misconduct by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology whose controversial gay-parenting study caused a stir when it was published, in June. But, according to a report released on Wednesday by the university, that does not mean the study isn't "seriously flawed," only that there was no evidence of falsification or other unethical practices. The inquiry was prompted by a complaint by Scott Rose, a blogger for the New Civil Rights Movement who has aggressively covered the Regnerus case. As part of the inquiry, Regnerus's computers, e-mail, and grant applications were examined, and the professor responded to each of Rose's allegations. According to the university's report, the inquiry found that "[n]one of the allegations of scientific misconduct put forth by Mr. Rose were substantiated either...

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August 21, 2012, 01:24 PM ET

The Monk and the Gunshot



When human beings are startled, we raise our shoulders and close our eyes. Our blood vessels constrict, and our pulse quickens. The startle response is a well-documented phenomenon; one of the first studies to examine it was published in 1939, and there's even an entire book on the subject. An involuntary reaction to, say, a very loud noise is thought to be deeply primitive and impossible to overcome. Try to stifle it, and you will almost certainly fail. Unless, perhaps, you're a Buddhist monk with 40 years of experience in meditation like Matthieu Ricard. Born in France, a son of the philosopher Jean-François Revel, Ricard has a doctorate in cell genetics and serves as the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama. Researchers decided to see if Ricard, with decades of meditation under his belt, would respond differently to being startled than those of us with decades of being...

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August 15, 2012, 02:01 PM ET

Harvard Sociologist Says His Research Was ‘Twisted’

Robert D. Putnam's research is being used to make the case that diversity is bad—and he's not happy about it. The Harvard sociologist, best known for his book Bowling Alone, filed a supporting brief in the lawsuit over race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the brief, Putnam objects to how his research is characterized in another brief, by Abigail Thernstrom, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Stephan Thernstrom, a Harvard historian, among others (the two Thernstroms, in case you were wondering, are married). In the Thernstrom brief, a 2007 paper by Putnam, titled "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century," is cited as evidence that diversity isn't all it's cracked up to be. In that paper, Putnam finds that in more diverse neighborhoods, people trust... Read More

July 26, 2012, 10:57 PM ET

Controversial Gay-Parenting Study Is Severely Flawed, Journal's Audit Finds

The peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems with a controversial and widely publicized study that seemed to raise doubts about the parenting abilities of gay couples, according to an internal audit scheduled to appear in the November issue of the journal, Social Science Research, that published the study. The highly critical audit, a draft of which was provided to The Chronicle by the journal's editor, also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, and states that "scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process." Since it was published last month, the study, titled "How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?," has been the subject of numerous news articles and blog posts. It has been used by opponents of same-sex marriage to make their case, and it's been blasted... Read More

July 18, 2012, 11:50 AM ET

An Economist Finds Herself in the Political Cross Hairs

On Monday, President Obama made fun of Mitt Romney's jobs plan, citing a commentary by an economist who estimated that his proposal to shift to a so-called territorial corporate-tax system—that is, to exempt American corporations from taxes on their foreign income—would cause them to move their operations overseas, creating 800,000 jobs in other countries. The commentary was by Kimberly A. Clausing, a professor of economics at Reed College, and published in Tax Notes. She doesn't mention Mitt Romney by name, writing that "others" are pushing for such a system, but it's clear who she's talking about, and it's obvious that she thinks it's a bad idea. "U.S. tax payments for the income from foreign operations of U.S. multinational corporations would not simply be deferred; they would be completely erased," she writes. "That would eliminate constraints on shifting income abroad." Clausing ...

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July 17, 2012, 01:01 PM ET

The Broken Escalator; Or, Can You Ever Really Retract a Paper?

It's a clear, curious, irresistible finding. In a study published in March of last year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers tracked donations to the Salvation Army from mall shoppers who had just taken the up escalator versus those who had just stepped off the down. They found that more than twice as many of the recently elevated gave money (16 percent compared with 7 percent). Articles about the study appeared in Scientific American, New Scientist, and multiple other outlets, each with the obligatory escalator stock photo like the one above. Even though the finding is pretty recent, it's showed up in several books, including Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business and Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers With Neuromarketing. The lead author of the study is Lawrence Sanna, who resigned in May from the... Read More