Episode 44 – 30th July 2010



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Silly Season by George Poles
Music Copyright by Salim Fadhley (ft Steve Lawson)
Good Science is Boring by Drew Rae
Bath Skeptics by Rob Weeks
Guide to a Skeptical Summer by Liz Lutgendorff
Now is the Month of Maying by the BHA Choir

10 thoughts on “Episode 44 – 30th July 2010

  1. Drew,

    When the conclusions of the Kepler mission were recently oversold as a result of people misinterpreting a TED talk, this misconception was swiftly and widely corrected. I don’t see such a public corrective mechanism against overly broad conclusions to be active in economics, and thus I stand by my criticism.

    Even assuming a robust series of checks internally, ultimately the purpose of any field of study is to share the knowledge gained with the wider public – so any good research done in economics is useless if all that people ever hear is bad conclusions drawn from it. If these shoddy conclusions serve an agenda (they usually seem to in economics; funny how the market always ‘wants’ the same thing as the person invoking it) its even worse.

    I generally agree with your report though. Its a problem when confronting deniers in areas like evolution, cosmology and climate change – the deniers conclusions are so firm and absolute, whilst the conclusions of scientists are necessarily cautious and bounded by caveats. Its a disadvantage as the denier can try to win an audience with his or her confidence alone, but it isn’t a terminal disadvantage as several gifted communicators of science have shown.

  2. Pete,
    I don’t disagree. (Not sure how I got drawn into defending economists – I feel unclean!). I’ve been trying to think about whether economics and political science have a “mirror” in non-academic discourse in a way that the physical sciences do not (or at least not to the same degree). Is climate change a special middle ground in this respect – are there a bunch of credible academic economists out there banging their heads against a wall in response to “public” economics in the same way that physical scientists are about climate change reporting?

    And if “academic” economics has been politicised as a result, your point about “how do you tell the difference between the bad and good economists” becomes very germaine. Maybe we look for the boring economists who put caveats on every semi-certain pronouncement.

  3. We have ‘Bad Astronomy’ and ‘Bad Science’ but googling ‘Bad Economics’ turns up, in order, a Wikipedia article which isn’t relevant, a white supremacist, and a computer scientist working at google. If these credible academic economists you speak of are out there, I’d rather they stopped just facepalming in their office every time some pundit on the BBC opened his mouth, and got out there and corrected them in an accessible, and non-ideological way.

    On your suggestion I’ve been trying to find peer-reviewed economics on the net, just looking at contents lists of journals and abstracts. Some of it seems to have an appropriately narrow focus and cautious set of conclusions for good research, and some of it sounds like it could be pretty interesting if presented for general consumption. So why is it that the public discourse on economics is dominated by the people who claim that a cherry-picked bit a data gives them an insight into human nature and the path to progress in a society that is on par with a natural law?

  4. Oh, and more relevantly for the podcast today, the BBC have just this morning done exactly what you were complaining about:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10790648

    “These rocks observed from Mars orbit look similar at IR wavelengths to ones on Earth that can sometimes preserve evidence of ancient microbes” gets translated to “Mars site may hold ‘buried life’”, and in the headline summary in Firefox to “Life on Mars? Rocks may contain remains of life”

    Proper science is clearly vulnerable to this sort of thing, but it normally get pointed out and rightly ridiculed. I may do so myself on next weeks podcast.

  5. Just listened to the podcast and really like that that these kind of discussions are happening in the comments section

  6. re copyright
    I think ‘direct action’ being used to get something for free so that it sticks one to the man is quite funny.
    Much better is to get involved in something you believe in and contribute your time or money or thought.
    If Simon Cowell aint your bag then downloading his stuff for free as an act of defiance is….well …..a bit naff.

  7. Liz – jealous that you’re going to Rebellion, I went the last 3 years but have no money this year :(

    Couple of recommendations: The Skints (awesome reggae/ska/punk), Subhumans/Citizen Fish (because Dick Lucas is amazing), Chas Palmer-Williams (singer from Lightyear)

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