24 February 2009

Blog Ethic and Bailiwick

(Image shamelessly stolen from RevelationArt: check them out, the work is quite good.)

"Many blog readers will form opinions based on very simple things," says Wager. "Like words such as 'voodoo correlations.' There's no reason to use such loaded words when making a statistical argument. The argument should be able to stand on its own."
(This from a recent Seed article entitled "That Voodoo That Scientists Do.")

Tor Wager -quoted above-, a cognitive neuroscientist from Columbia University, is quite right about one thing (even if he is very wrong about what he wants to be right about). For all of you who read Seed, or who've been following the controversy through other media, you'll know that Dr Wager is objecting to a forthcoming paper titled "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience" (Ed Vul & Nancy Kanwisher, MIT, and Hal Pashler,UCSD). While I think Vul, et al, are basically correct in their assessment of some recent neuroscience, the more important point, at least for me as it concerns me, is that Bloggers pass themselves off as experts.

Now, lest it seem as though I'm one of the many people constantly maligning Bloggers and Blog Readers, I also think that New York Times writers pass themselves off as experts when the very often are not: (often with much more devastating consequences.) What I very blandly recommend is that you, the reader, come to your own conclusions. The good thing about blog posts is that they usually link to primary sources: if you want to have an informed opinion, read them. I am also of the opinion that a sound Science Education greatly helps critical analysis. I'll quote Chomsky, who makes this point more eloquently than I can:

"I think studying science is a good way to get into fields like history. The reason is, you learn what an argument means, you learn what evidence is, you learn what makes sense to postulate and when, what's going to be convincing. You internalize the modes of rational inquiry, which happen to be much more advanced in the sciences than anywhere else. On the other hand, applying relativity theory to history isn't going to get you anywhere. So it's a mode of thinking."

I feel obligated to qualify myself as vastly under-qualified; yet in the fields that I do feel qualified to have an opinion, I give my opinion: (generally that translates into areas concerning the History and Philosophy of Science & Technology, Astronomy, Physics -at least conceptually-, Geology, Philosophy, Linguistics, and just a little bit of Evolutionary Science.) I have my bailiwick and I try to stick too it. My intellectual honesty will hopefully translate into something usefully for you and I am always happy to debate and be corrected: (that's what the "Syndicate" part is about.)