Monday, October 19, 2009

Doggerel #205: "The Mainstream Won't Publish My Stuff!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

This bit of doggerel is often a sort of preemptive "sour grapes" rationalization: Because the mainstream allegedly won't publish something, they don't have to bother trying. Even if the doggerel-user has tried and failed to publish in a prestigious journal, they can still publish in many other locations. If their work is actually worthwhile, it should show through. If it's not, criticism is still valid.

Science is not a religion. The prestigious journals are not a form of canonization. A study or experiment that follows good scientific procedure should be able to stand on its own merits, whether or not it's published. Heck, it could be self-published on a blog for all I care. As long as it contains all the relevant methods used, data gathered, etcetera, there shouldn't be any problem with reviewing that work. The good journals are the ones that maintain good standards. If there's some form of corruption preventing a good paper from getting published, the correct response is to publicize that paper as much as possible and expose the corruption, such as pointing out logical fallacies used in the rejection.

Unfortunately, instead of putting forth the effort or giving skeptics something meaningful to look at, this doggerel is used as a cynical excuse for laziness and martyr complexes. Science is not a game of politics. You can't "win" by having a more tear-jerking performance than your opponent: You have to gather data with hard work and/or expose fundamental flaws in your adversary's thinking. You can't allow yourself to fall into fatalism.


Buford said...

Here's an example of real science coming to a conclusion that counters conventional wisdom:

The study mentioned on page 1 was done in a research division of the company where I work. A link to the article above was posted in our Intranet with other media stories about our work.

Several things look just like woo: Our article was rejected by peer review! We are questioning the status quo! We have proof!

Other things look just like science: When rejected by one publisher, try another.

I have no way of knowing how much of this article is the research team's real conclusions and how much is spin by the author. But here are some things I can glean from reading (page 1) with a skeptical mind:

1. It was good science to question the effects of the vaccines against the effects of "healthy user effect."

2. We know vaccines work. We know how they work. The articles line "But what if everything we think we know about fighting influenza is wrong?" is hyperbole, no matter who used it. "Everything" we know is NOT wrong, but we MAY be giving full credit to a vaccine where only partial credit is due. That is, its possible that some part of the life-saving statistic is due to actual benefits of the vaccine and some is due to the healthy user effect. The description of the study in this article does not give enough information to tell.

3. JAMA's response indicates that the study's author may may over-reached in her conclusions (see #2). That doesn't invalidate all of the work they did, and did not prevent them from finding another outlet for it.

From my reading of this article alone, and no other source, I feel that we should encourage others to do similar studies and new studies of differing types to ask the same questions. We need confirmation of these results from other labs.

Its not uncommon for those who do science to reach the wrong conclusions, or reach too far. Chicken Little had evidence that 'something fell from the sky' his error was concluding that 'the entire sky is falling'

This study seems to show that healthy user effect has an impact on vaccine studies. We should start watching for that and correcting our results for it. That moves us forward. That is good science.

To conclude that 'vaccines don't work' is to move us backwards. That is NOT science.

Anonymous said...

The really funny thing about this is that the two greatest advances made in fundamental physics in the last century (GR and QM) were both completely contrary to established wisdom and common sense...

Dunc said...

Ack - that was me!