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« Eat and Swill - Josh 255 | Main | Yeo's constituency party want him out »
Sunday
Jan192014

McIntyre's mirror image

This article in the Guardian about an MSc student who uncovered a major flaw in a headline grabbing psychology paper is amazingly reminscent of Steve McIntyre's story: the amateur sleuth, the mathematically illiterate academics, the unwillingness to admit error; it's all there.

"Not many psychologists are very good at maths," says Brown. "Not many psychologists are even good at the maths and statistics you have to do as a psychologist. Typically you'll have a couple of people in the department who understand it. Most psychologists are not capable of organising a quantitative study. A lot of people can get a PhD in psychology without having those things at their fingertips. And that's the stuff you're meant to know. Losada's maths were of the kind you're not meant to encounter in psychology. The maths you need to understand the Losada system is hard but the maths you need to understand that this cannot possibly be true is relatively straightforward."

 

 

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Reader Comments (57)

It's taken the Grauniad a long time to get this story. It was covered last year here, but I can't recall where the best coverage occurred.

Jan 19, 2014 at 9:57 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Sitting in a breakfast room in the alps looking at the rain. And it was worth the read.

Brown took one look at all this and said "Bullshit!".

It is the Fred Dibnah approach (an old school "lathe in the shed" type with a feel for how things work who became a TV personality). Fred never had an education, but as an engineer, who had that feel, he could trounce any degree laden/institute credentialled engineer with a laptop. "Ey lad, that'll never work."

You look at something and you just say "Bullshit!'. It is a very valid viewpoint and approach. Jack of all trades, master of none. It is often why some of the best Project Managers are Brits.

The article could of course have been written almost identically with McIntyre and Mann. Even if the Guardian would have printed it, the comments below would not have been supportive.

Strange world of science reporting.

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

even more of a parallel with Prof Lewandowsky's use of statistics (ie both cases psychology)

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Dumb maths seems to be a current theme. This and Phil Plait's nonsense.

We also have a youtube video being peddled by some Alarmists. One Ray Kurzweil, supposedly a "Director of Engineering" at Google saying we "only" need 8 doubling of solar output to meet 100% of our electricity demand.

Do the maths. The means:

Solar is currently around 0.4% of demand and he is saying we "only" need to increase solar ouput 256 times. Yes that is 25,600%

Unbelievable. And mathematically illiterates warmists are citing this "fact" all ovrr the internet.

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

In fact here is Steve McIntyre on psychologist Prof Lewandowsky's 'use' of statistics'

"As observed here a couple of days ago, there were no respondents in the original survey who simultaneously believed that Diana faked her own death and was murdered. Nonetheless, in L13Role, Lewandowsky not only cited this faux example, but used it as a “hallmark” of conspiracist ideation:" - S McIntyre

http://climateaudit.org/2013/11/13/another-absurd-lewandowsky-correlation/

And
http://climateaudit.org/2013/11/09/the-zen-of-population-n0/

"Mann rose to prominence by supposedly being able to detect “faint” signals using “advanced” statistical methods. Lewandowsky has taken this to a new level: using lew-statistics, lew-scientists can deduce properties of population with no members." - S McIntyre

we even had a cartoon about it:
http://climateaudit.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/josh_zero_sum_scr.jpg?w=450&h=633

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Photo caption in the article:

The maths and the paper might be wrong, but I'm right anyway.

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterMax Roberts

Presumably there will be a host of commentators at the Guardian, calling them out for publishing a psychology-denier?

no?

I wonder why...

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Steve saw the similarities too when Mosher mentioned it last October:

http://climateaudit.org/2013/10/21/nick-brown-smelled-bs/

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

The Guardian reports this type of problem but not when it is about climate or environmentalism!

They are quite happy to make statements like "and ended up taking on America's academic establishment" but ignore incompetence in UK academia.

It is disgraceful that people like Phil Jones and Ben Santer continue to talk about FOI harassment to cover up their pathetic attempts at science.

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Retraction watch reported last September on it being partially retracted.

http://retractionwatch.com/2013/09/19/fredrickson-losada-positivity-ratio-paper-partially-withdrawn/

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterBob Koss

Jimmy Cricket:
Fred never had an education

He spent three years at Bolton College of Art.

Jan 19, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

Lots of good points in it , but no real surprise to find that despite these same problems being rampant in climate 'science' they never think to us the same approach there, given how 'important' the cause is .

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

There is another parallel in this case that has some resonance with climate science - the abuse of the Lorenz equations.

The Lorenz equations are well known in maths/physics/engineering. Lorenz set them up to be a relatively simple, easy to understand set of equations that exhibited a specific characteristic he was interested in - sensitivity to initial conditions (exponential divergence of solutions). Because it is often used to illustrate this property, it is a well known and discussed set of equations. For this purpose, the use is fine.

The problem is when people then use those equations to infer other properties about complex systems. This is exactly what Fredrickson and Losada did: to then derive a different property from the Lorenz equations, and assume that property would then apply to an entirely different system of equations. The ludicrousness of this approach defies belief.

But then I have seen several climate scientists do the exact same thing. RealClimate used the Lorenz equations to demonstrate sensitivity to initial conditions, then went on to note that for the Lorenz equations, averaging reduced the error, therefore the same applied in climate. Ermm, no, that does not follow.

A climate scientist recommended I looked at Tim Palmer's book on uncertainty in modelling and the first bit of that book makes inferences about the Lorenz equations and just assumes that could then be applied to climate and weather modelling.

The Lorenz equations exist only as an educational tool on the sensitivity of initial conditions. To use it to infer properties of a different complex system is just crazy, and something that appears to infect both psychology and climate science.

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

What was that about "lies, damned lies and statistics"..........

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered Commentermeltemian

…in fact Brown, in this sentence – wrote: "The idea that any aspect of human behaviour or experience should be universally and reproducibly constant to five significant digits would, if proven, constitute a unique moment in the history of the social sciences."

This was how Cyril Burt's deception was found out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Burt

And he did it all with a mechanical calculator, like we had (pre-Sinclair) at school in the 60's! My family were mostly skilled craftsmen (&women), but nowadays, if you have that Dibnahesque 'feel' they just mention teraflops and laugh at you. Cargo cult science?

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

Discussion of this article here: http://climateaudit.org/2013/10/21/nick-brown-smelled-bs/#comments

Nick Brown Smelled Bull
A plucky amateur dared to question a celebrated psychological finding. He wound up blowing the whole theory wide open.

http://narrative.ly/pieces-of-mind/nick-brown-smelled-bull/

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterGary Mount

Lewandowski should be looking over his shoulder every day just in case he attracts the attention of Nick Brown.

On the other hand, I doubt if Nick Brown would think it worthwhile bothering with lightweights like Lewandowski.

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Lewandowski should be looking over his shoulder every day just in case he attracts the attention of Nick Brown.

On the other hand, I doubt if Nick Brown would think it worthwhile bothering with lightweights like Lewandowski.

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

"Uniting existing theory on positive emotion with the mathematics of nonlinear dynamics), we make the following seven predictions:

1. Human flourishing and languishing can be represented by a set of mathematical equations drawn from the
Lorenz system.

2. The positivity ratio that bifurcates phase space between the limit cycle of languishing and the complex dynamics of flourishing is 2.9.

3. Positivity ratios at or above 2.9 are associated with human flourishing. Flourishing is associated with dynamics that are nonrepetitive, innovative, highly flexible, and dynamically stable; that is, they represent the complex order of chaos, not the rigidity of limit cycles and point attractors.

4. Human flourishing at larger scales (e.g., groups) shows a similar structure and process to human flourishing at smaller scales (e.g., individuals).

5. Appropriate negativity is a critical ingredient within human flourishing that serves to maintain a grounded,
negentropic system.

6. The complex dynamics of flourishing first show signs of disintegration at a positivity ratio of 11.6."

Yes, SLBTM

Jan 19, 2014 at 12:18 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

It's also true in History. When I was doing my archaeology course, one of the assigned essays included the highland clearances. As my main interest is well before this time I though it would be a quick 4page essay: wang bang thank you mam!

But ... as a scientist ... I just had to back up the essay with the stats.

Unfortunately, when you go and look at the stats -- THERE IS NO SIGN OF THE HIGHLAND CLEARANCES., because throughout the period the population of the highlands increased.

There was also only one death - which went to trial and they were cleared by a jury.

In contrast, not long before in the 1690s in the colder wet weather (during the Maunder Minimum) up to a quarter of the population died. That could be 200,000 people.

So, the greatest disaster in modern Scottish history - a cold-climate related disaster gets almost no mention. Whereas a single death in evictions that occurred throughout Britain during the agricultural revolution and were by no means unique to Scotland - gets endless attention including a debate in the Scottish parliament asking for an apology for this "genocide".

In fact, I gave up on Scottish archaeology because the subject is full of nonsense which cannot be supported by any facts. Here are a few examples where the facts point to a very different interpretation than is fashionable in Scotland:-

Mons Graupius revealed
The Names of the Roman Forts along the Antonine Wall
The racial origins of the British - II – The French are Kelts - II – Britain before the Romans

Jan 19, 2014 at 1:20 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

So researcher has a belief and is able to cook up some kind of mathematical nonsense to fool the rest of their profession into accepting that their belief has been proven. So like climate science.

I'm tempted to say I don't care. However about 6 years ago I was a school governor at a primary school. And I remember the issue of positive/negative criticism came up - and the school's deputy head quoted the 3:1 ratio as a known fact.

Again so like climate science.


Cheers,


Nick.

Jan 19, 2014 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterNickM

DaveB (Jan 19, 2014 at 10:52 AM):

Jimmy Cricket:

Fred never had an education

He spent three years at Bolton College of Art.

So, you are agreeing with Jiminy, then?

On a more serious note, there was the more recent case of the Dutch “social science” (why do I hear Richard Feynman chuckling at that phrase?) academic who built his entire career on totally fabricated research. The name escapes me, though I read through the entire charade, one that lasted many years before he was outed, then ousted. If one man, alone, can pull that trick for so long on Academe, how much easier would it be if a group of them pursued a similar con?

Jan 19, 2014 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Martin A,

It reminds me of the time at school when a lad in another class who hadn't done his chemistry home work, (a write up on a practical on hard and soft water) asked some of us for help, about ten minutes before morning assembly after which he had to hand the work in. He was useless at chemistry.

The write up we dictated ran something like, "Dividing the mean by the median of the titration results we arrive at the stratified representational value of the measurements. These are put into Kline's water hardness function (which we made up on the spot). The result is then divided by the recurring mercuric density coefficient of X, 13.3..... giving an answer 256.9 which is greater than 1. This proves the water sample was hard". Someone helpfully produced a slide rule to divide by the recurring mercuric density coefficient of X.

At the next class, he was called up to the master's desk and went with obvious pride. The master then began to fulminate about the total rubbish he'd written.

We had a lecture from a smirking science master on how, if we were going to help someone, we should genuinely help them.

Jan 19, 2014 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

From the Graun:

She effectively accepted that Losada's maths was wrong and admitted that she never really understood it anyway. But she refused to accept that the rest of the research was flawed. Indeed she claimed that, if anything, the empirical evidence was even stronger in support of her case.

Sounds oddly familiar.

Jan 19, 2014 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

"amazingly reminscent"

Bish, sometimes your style is SO dry that I immediately need further liquid refreshment.

Thanks!

Jan 19, 2014 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerryM

cosmic : "We had a lecture from a smirking science master on how, if we were going to help someone, we should genuinely help them."

I bet they couldn't use excel either!

Jan 19, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

"as an engineer, who had that feel, he could trounce any degree laden/institute credentialled engineer with a laptop": sentimental drivel.

Jan 19, 2014 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

who cares about psychology?
It is a mystery to me why some crazy stupid ideas are believed by people supposed to be well educated.

Jan 19, 2014 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterlemiere

Interestingly he says...
"Look at whistleblower culture. If you want to be a whistleblower you have to be prepared to lose your job. I'm able to do what I'm doing here because I'm nobody. I don't have to keep any academics happy. I don't have to think about the possible consequences of my actions for people I might admire personally who may have based their work on this and they end up looking silly. There are 160,000 psychologists in America and they've got mortgages. I've got the necessary degree of total independence."

As I've said there are a lot of people with a lot to lose if CAGW based on CO2 is shown to be bollocks. It's going to take someone brave to speak out.

Jan 19, 2014 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

I was shocked to see that you need 2.9 good things to happen to you versus each bad thing in order to remain happy or sane.

I am usually content on a 1:1 ratio, though the exact nature of the good things versus bad things should require a little further research. Give them a grant, for Gawd's sake

Jan 19, 2014 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterstun

@Nial: Interestingly he says...

And in so doing, he sums up the entire CAGW movement in a one paragraph.

Jan 19, 2014 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil and Keith's Career Trick

dearime...sentimental drivel... maybe half right.

Actually it was jumping across somewhat in why the industrial revolution took off in such a major way in this country and an empire. But that is a disgresion.

I will accept the 'drivel'. The 'sentimental' I object to. It was shortened prose using a well known person that people could relate to. Prose about the cultural heritage of self driven individuals that of western civilisation is built upon. Often without the establishment fineries that hide so many sins.

And thanks because you are the perfect example that is talked about here, of someone who creates negative tension that people use for positive purposes. ;-)

Jan 19, 2014 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

But... the paper couldn't possibly be flawed - it was, after all *PEER-REVIEWED* - therefore Settled Science™, see?

<Smirk>

Jan 19, 2014 at 4:03 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

We had a lecture from a smirking science master on how, if we were going to help someone, we should genuinely help them.
Jan 19, 2014 at 1:53 PM cosmic

Haha

But probably you did help him - to learn a valuable lesson not to accept uncritically rubbish that was handed to him by people who did not have his best interests at heart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am filled with admiration for the effort Brown, Sokal and Friedman went to to show what rubbish was the paper by Fredrickson and Losada. It is just such obvious rubbish that making the effort would have been beyond me. But bearing in mind that it had been cited hundreds of times in the psychology literature, it was well worth doing. It should make others in the field think twice before becoming involved in the creation of garbage involving mathematical formulas.

The paper by Brown, Sokal and Friedman is worth looking at as a model of clarity, intended to be comprehensible to readers including those unfamiliar with maths. http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/complex_dynamics_final_clean.pdf

Jan 19, 2014 at 4:55 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Jan 19, 2014 at 1:20 PM MikeHaseler

MH - I imagine you are familiar with The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language

Jan 19, 2014 at 5:26 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Radical Rodent (1:33 PM) -
Perhaps you are thinking of Diederik Stapel?

Jan 19, 2014 at 5:36 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Jiminy Cricket on Jan 19, 2014 at 3:26 PM

We expect you to be more than "maybe half right".

You owe it to yourself to aim higher than that. :)

Any Engineer would, more than likely, have a degree or equivalent anyway, and would hopefully be able to explain the background to the problem. And this is what happened here.

Nick Brown, without a 'good grounding in Maths' (it is all relative in this case!), was the one "who had that feel", while Alan Sokal did, and was able to help out with the Maths!

Jan 19, 2014 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

It is a mystery to me why some crazy stupid ideas are believed by people supposed to be well educated.
Jan 19, 2014 at 2:59 PM | lemiere

Educated beyond their intelligence.

Jan 19, 2014 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

My goodness the Guardian Stazi are touchy today. When I posted a comment merely suggesting there were parallels between Nick Brown's experiences with the field of psychology and climate science, nothing stronger, the moderator sprung into action.

Can't have that.

Jan 19, 2014 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Jake Haye:'Indeed she claimed that, if anything, the empirical evidence was even stronger in support of her case.
Sounds oddly familiar'.

This is the way people keep their happiness ratio above 2.9.

Jan 19, 2014 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterMindert Eiting

So much to debunk, so little time ...
For those of you with enough time, why not take on this article showing that babies start learning their maternal language in the womb:

http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/01/02/while-in-womb-babies-begin-learning-language-from-their-mothers/

Jan 19, 2014 at 8:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterLTEC

Hey, Gecko

Watch what you're saying about Ray Kurzweil.

The ,man's a hero and has invented some pretty cool stuff down the years.

Jan 19, 2014 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

These psycho logists are messing with people's minds!
Thankfully Nick Brown has a genetic mutation that has enhanced the synaptic connection in the olfactory region of the brain by an order of precisely, 2.9013 enabling the rapid detection of BS.

Jan 19, 2014 at 8:20 PM | Unregistered Commenternick

These psycho logists are messing with people's minds!
Thankfully Nick Brown has a genetic mutation that has enhanced the synaptic connection in the olfactory region of the brain by an order of precisely, 2.9013 enabling the rapid detection of BS.

Jan 19, 2014 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered Commenternick

These psycho logists are messing with people's minds!
Thankfully Nick Brown has a genetic mutation that has enhanced the synaptic connection in the olfactory region of the brain by an order of precisely, 2.9013 enabling the rapid detection of BS.

Jan 19, 2014 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered Commenternick

Geckko, Jan 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM

If it's true that current solar electrical output meets 0.4% of our electrical demand, then our electrical demand is 250 times our current solar output. If we double our current solar output 8 times, the resulting solar output will be 256 times our current solar output. Isn't 256 times our current solar output greater than our demand (250 times our current solar output)? As such, I don't see the error in Kurzweil's math. I do see the ridiculousness of increasing our electrical solar output by a factor of 256, or as you point out 25,600%. Thus, I believe you can accuse Kurzweil of obfuscating the issue in an attempt to fool people unfamiliar with math, but I believe his math is accurate. Where am I wrong? Anyone?

Jan 19, 2014 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterReed Coray

Did someone mention Cyril Burt?

Sorry, but Cyril Burt was attacked by just the same sorts of communists who seek to impose state control today on climate destroyers. He was hung out to dry by a talentless bunch of third rate psychologists at the BPS who decided to go with the politics rather than conduct a proper investigation. It didn't help that Eysenck, one of his students, was one of the most slippery individuals in the history of psychology. Heard stuff like that before?

Anyway, the same sorts of people who destroyed Cyril Burt have pretty well been responsible for the end of education in the UK. Burt's research was about finding disadvantaged people with potential and helping them realise that. Anyone got any problems with that?

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMax Roberts

"The paper by Brown, Sokal and Friedman is worth looking at as a model of clarity, intended to be comprehensible to readers including those unfamiliar with maths. http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/complex_dynamics_final_clean.pdf: --Martin A

Thank you, Martin A! I've read BSF and it's 🂮🂾🃎🃞 brilliant. How apposite and ironic that Sokal should be called upon to do the maths! F&L reads like the Sokal Hoax with twenty tablespoonsful of equally meaningless equations thrown in. I must suppress a plethora of profane German colloquialisms that spring to mind.

But the self-deception of F&L is mind-blowingly obvious by inspection. Their pathetic attempts to prop up handwaved assertions resemble, at best, first-year grad students' pseudomathematical maunderings. The analysis by Brown, Sokal and Friedman is thus akin to calling in a team of renowned philologists to parse a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." BSF are, if anything, far too kind in their assumption that there might be anything at all of value in the application of fluid dynamics equations to social "science." And, of course, they demolish that notion clearly and thoroughly, if not swiftly, like a tomato in a blender.

From BSF, page 22, top: "...Alternatively, the interactions of a team of researchers whose journal articles are characterized by “smoke and mirrors” could be modeled using the physics of airborne particulate combustion residues, combined in some way with classical optics." You don't suppose that team of researchers referred to could be F&L, do you? Of course not.

Jan 20, 2014 at 12:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Re: why some of the best Project Managers are Brits. Jack of all trades.

Now, now, we've still got plenty of guys like that on our side of the pond. Even if a lot of them are Canadian...

The larger truth still holds -- a lot of these fellows have come up through the ranks, are rough-spoken, lack fancy degrees.... Think of good noncoms in the military, who keep things going while the young officers figure out which end is up (I was one, once...)

You can go anywhere you want if you look serious and carry a clipboard.

Jan 20, 2014 at 1:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter D. Tillman

"Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!" - Homer (Simpson)

Jan 20, 2014 at 6:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

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