Hypothesis-driven research

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Today's Non Sequitur:

There's certainly a history of funding from certain industry groups arguably distorting research goals and reported results. In the biomedical area, there have been several recent scandals in which "scientists" (well, doctors anyhow) apparently did nothing but put their name on papers prepared for them by interested companies.

A more insidious danger is the "file drawer effect", which is a result of the natural tendency to publish only "interesting" results. This is one of the reasons, according to John Ioannidis, "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False".

But maybe a little xkcd is needed for balance here…

[And in comparison to our punditocracy, even the darkest corners of the scientific literature shine pretty bright.]


  1. MattF said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 8:14 am

    Note, for the record, the "160.4 GHz" maximum on the graph means this is the graph of the energy density of the cosmic microwave blackbody radiation that's the remnant of the Big Bang.

    [(myl) And not thermal radiation from pigeon droppings in their antenna, as Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson originally thought.]

  2. Ken Grabach said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 8:26 am

    If the y axis is relabled, and the measurement standard is changed to something other than Hz, the graph could represent the missing data for the chocolate conclusion.

    [(myl) Good idea. And Figure 2 can be created by putting appropriate axis labels on the Universal Marketing Graphic…]

  3. Mark P said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 8:32 am

    I noticed that the paper you cite is called an essay rather than a published research finding.

  4. language hat said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    I used to work as an editor in the pharmaceutical advertising industry, and I can assure you that the first cartoon is exactly the way medical research is largely done, since it is paid for by the companies selling the products being researched.

  5. Army1987 said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

    Thanks for spoiling that, MattF. I had guessed that, and was looking up Wien's constant to show whether I was right.

  6. What price cartoon celebrity endorsement? said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    […] are important questions. I stand ready to abandon my principles and take industry's money to answer them. Footnotes:Careful if you click; the site makes loud noises, unbidden. [↩]Snobby quote alert: […]

  7. Nathan Myers said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    That the curve describes blackbody radiation of a particular temperature is a fact. Where it comes from remains hypothetical. Big Bang remnant is a popular alternative, but it could still turn out to be nothing more than the temperature of the inter-galactic medium as it scatters the occasional photon passing through. To suggest such a boring possibility would be career suicide in astrophysics.

  8. Mark F. said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

    To be fair, sometimes researchers who are paid to prove X end up proving Not X, and still publish their results. I believe this happened a few years back with an attempt to prove that a certain class of still-under-patent blood pressure medications was better than the cheaper alternatives.

  9. Army1987 said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 10:04 am

    @Nathan Myers: It's also possible that the universe was created 5 minutes ago with the photons on their way having had those energies all along, of course

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