… In Producing Unreliable Research

I found this one in the archives.

I think I never bothered to publish it because it felt a bit … mean spirited. I know people who work at OSU. I trust them. I’d read their work out of reflex. I don’t like the damned-by-association aspect of this at all.

But the desperate grasping vapid stupidity of university branding exercises have always made me think of my OWN ‘brand associations’ with different universities… which are usually ‘who did what dodgy business and when’.

And, of course, the gap between the glossy smiling pandering brochures, usually featuring students judiciously chosen for…

The stupid coda to a stupid story

September ‘20: I wrote this god knows how long ago and never published it. Presumably after this dreadful, glib Inverse.com article was published, which was … mid ’19 I believe.

As I’ve said before, this happens frequently. I have about a paperback’s worth of unpublished blog posts from last year alone.

I write primarily to relieve pressure, when I am compelled. Catharsis often comes from simply writing down whatever is pressing on your temples. In the leeside of such indulgences, a judgement must be made — should I assert that people spend their time reading this?

Often, they should not…

I do peer review and I want you to pay me four hundred and fifty dollars. I’ll even say please.


It’s amazing how quickly a perspective can change.

I thought I’d be an academic forever, maybe longer.

That was Plan A.

For all its ridiculous foibles, and the resulting incipient hair loss, and for my many, many attempts to kick its shins, it was still Plan A. I liked it well enough.

But I never wanted to be ‘an academic’.

I wanted to be ‘a scientist’.

And there are flavours of that.

Plan B was always working in wearable tech…

The COVID Files #2

July, ’20: Written a few months ago and not published, as usual, because it felt meaner than I had intended when I started. This was during the final contemplation stages of what alt-ac life would look like, and probably not a good time to be generally disgusted.

And that’s the problem with it: it doesn’t really have any content. It is, by turns, an expurgation, violent muttering, hyperbole, and threats. Normally I wouldn’t bother. But like I keep saying, I’ve run out of people to impress.

If the present rate of virus hot takes grows exponentially…

And I’m OK With That

I’m leaving academia.

I will still do science.

That is, I will start a job, at a company, doing something a lot like science, very soon. I have signed a contract.

It was popular a few years ago to write about this experience. We called it ‘quit lit’. Documents in the genre tended to run long, and alternated between detailed accounts of fairly torrid career experiences (which were interesting) with additional self-indulgent drivel about values and feelings (which were not).

Well, if everyone else gets to play, so do I. My attempt to join this…

The COVID Files #2

The above was the first thing I stumbled over which predicted the present donnybrook over the now notorious preprint on seroprevalence in Santa Clara county.

It feels like it started in about 2017. It was three weeks ago.

That tweetlethread is about as good of an example of serious and detailed ‘preprint / community peer review’ as you’ll ever see, and the sort of thing that provides the activation energy of my suspicions. …

The COVID Files #1

I want to tell you a story about cancer. I promise you it’s relevant.


High-dose chemotherapy is brutal.

The side effects you can feel include diarrhea, vomiting, nerve damage, horrible nausea, hair loss, etc.

The side effects you can’t feel are in many ways a lot worse. The primary one is the suppression of your bone marrow from making new blood cells. Red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, they all get smashed. Enough chemotherapy and you don’t have a functioning immune system.

And you need one of those.

In the late 80s, a South African doctor was very bullish…

There are four archetypal figures you can meet studying scientific fraud. I’ve met them. Now you can, too.

Old Nick has a snarky response he delivers almost by reflex whenever researchers (and psychologists in particular) suddenly discover that their lives and careers are directly affected by the things they ostensibly study scientifically.

I’ve always found this funny, the blindspot of understanding poor human behaviour in science on scientific terms.

And it was on my mind recently, thinking about biases and associated scientific naughtiness. …

A criminology paper has problems. What should be done?

So, what’s happening here? Short version which is approximately right:

  • Group of authors of a Criminology paper receives information to suggest they published a paper which was full of errors.
  • One author looks into this, and asks Serious Questions about his own paper. Answers are not forthcoming.
  • He then produces this public excoriation of his own paper, which includes some bizarre stuff like ‘500 participants copied and pasted to produce 1000’ and ‘basic demographic information which can’t exist’. Fierce stuff.
  • The whole kerfuffle makes it about the traps, and is reported in RetractionWatch.
  • Journalist picks up on narrative, pretty common…

You find some odd stuff cleaning up your Dropbox

You have been visited by the Cow of Retrospective Opinions.

Most of what I’ve written is in some poorly curated folder, somewhere. The act of writing, for such a long time, was simply curative — some exegesis of some feeling (usually anger) or doubt (usually scientific). That was all. Letting people read it was an afterthought. Maybe I never thought they’d care.

Most of it, also, is incomplete.

So it’s somewhat unusual to stumble across something I finished but also never released, but I have.

This was written in 2013, pre-supposing a great deal of the conversations we’ve had about research…

James Heathers

I write about science. We can probably be friends.

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