TAKING SIDES WITH TYRANTS: Scoop: The World Bank told Taiwanese staff to get Chinese passports. “This year, the World Bank told current and prospective employees of Taiwanese nationality they must present Chinese travel documents in order to maintain or pursue employment. Why it matters: China has recently ramped up its campaign to systematically force Taiwan and its citizens out of the international community. But forcing out its own staff in this way violates World Bank employment principles.”
I WANT TO GO ON RECORD AS SAYING THE BABYLON BEE STAFF DIDN’T HANG THEMSELVES: We Are Pleased To Announce Our Person Of The Year Is Hillary Clinton Please Send Help.
EVERYTHING SEEMINGLY IS SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL: Thousands of ‘penis fish’ wash onto California beach.
(Classical reference in headline.)
FASTER, PLEASE: Low-Risk Ultrasound Procedure Destroys 80 Percent of Prostate Cancers In One-Year S…
Lindsey wants our information freely available to criminals and government agencies.
THEY’RE FROM THE GOVERNMENT AND THEY’RE HERE TO HELP: US senators on encryption back doors: “We will impose our will” on Apple and Facebook.
A decades-old debate: Government officials have long argued that encryption makes criminal investigations too hard. Companies, they say, should build in special access that law enforcement could use with a court’s permission. Technologists say creating these back doors would weaken digital security for everyone.
But the heat is on: “My advice to you is to get on with it,” Senator Lindsey Graham told the Silicon Valley giants at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “Because this time next year, if we haven’t found a way that you can live with, we will impose our will on you.” Apple and Facebook representatives at the hearing came under fire from senators in both parties, while Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance, one of the biggest advocates of back doors, was treated as a star witness.
Sod off, all of you.
Man whose farts kill mosquitoes hired to make repellent...
(First column, 16th story, link)
Pest controllers create breed of 'super rat' by mistake...
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL IS AN ENEMY OF FREEDOM: Recently, a pro-Israel group at York University in Ont…
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL IS AN ENEMY OF FREEDOM: Recently, a pro-Israel group at York University in Ontario held an event that featured former Israeli soldiers. Violence ensued, apparently precipitated by leftist protesters. And Amnesty Canada blames.… York University for allowing the event to proceed, and allowing members of the public to attend:
Given conflicting views about what happened that evening, the worrying ongoing impact on students at York and the important human rights considerations that are at stake, Amnesty International urges York University to go further and convene an independent review of all circumstances associated with the Herut Zionism Club event and its aftermath, with a mandate that includes examination of:
considerations that were taken into account in approving the event, including the fact that the speakers were former members of a military with a clear record of responsibility for war crimes and other serious human rights violations; decisions made with respect to the presence of members of the Jewish Defense League on campus.
JAMES BOVARD: Inspector General report on FBI’s FISA abuse tells us one thing: We need radical refo…
Yesterday’s IG report was only the latest in a long series of revelations about FBI misconduct at the FISA court:
*In 2002, the FISA court revealed that FBI agents had false or misleading claims in 75 cases and a top FBI counterterrorism official was prohibited from ever appearing before the court again.
*In 2005, FISA chief judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly proposed requiring FBI agents to swear to the accuracy of the information they presented; that never happened because it could have “slowed such investigations drastically,” the Washington Post reported. So FBI agents continued to have a license to exploit FISA secrecy to lie to the judges.
*In 2017, a FISA court decision included a 10-page litany of FBI violations, which “ranged from illegally sharing raw intelligence with unauthorized third parties to accessing intercepted attorney-client privileged communications without proper oversight.”
* In October, a secret FISA court ruling was released documenting the FBI’s illegal conducted warrantless searches of vast numbers of Americans’ emails despite congressional legislation seeking to curb FBI data roundups.
FBI machinations at the FISA court are especially perilous to American democracy because that court is extremely docile to federal agencies. The FISA court “created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans,” the New York Times reported in 2013 after Edward Snowden leaked court decisions. FISA decisions have “quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court…regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny.” The court’s servility can boggle the imagination, such as its rubber-stamping FBI requests that bizarrely claimed that the telephone records of all Americans were “relevant” to a terrorism investigation under the Patriot Act, thereby enabling N.S.A. data seizures later denounced by a federal judge as “almost Orwellian.”
Ironically, the FISA court was created in 1978 to prevent Nixon-style political spying.
Or at least, that’s how it was sold.
A MAJOR FACEBOOK FACT-CHECKING FAIL: So this meme showed up in my memories marked as “False Informa…
A MAJOR FACEBOOK FACT-CHECKING FAIL: So this meme showed up in my memories marked as “False Information.”
I’m not exactly sure how this can be characterized as “false.” Do Americans really prefer to eat their dogs? Is the connection between socialism and dog-eating absurd? (No — see Venezuela.). Who’s the fact-checker responsible? This is all I found:
This is apparently a Colombian fact-checking service, in Bogota, which seems to be sympathetic to Evo Morales. The actual objection is that the Trump quote isn’t a genuine Trump quote. Well, it’s a meme. But it’s blacked out on my page as false because Facebook thinks it’s “Fake News,” based on a fact check from a Colombian “news” organization that I’ve never heard of, that seems not to understand how memes and humor work.
Sad, Facebook. Just sad.
Scientific journal articles can be incredibly intimidating to read, even for other scientists. Heck, I have a Ph.D. in a research science and have authored scientific papers, but sometimes I look at a research report outside my field of study and just go, “Nope, can’t decipher this.”
Learning to read them is an important skill, however, in today’s environment of what I call “research sensationalism.” This is where the popular media gets hold of a scientific research report and blows the findings WAY out of proportion, usually while misrepresenting what the researchers actually did and/or found. You know what I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, you can’t trust popular media reports about scientific research studies. Too often, it’s shockingly evident that the people writing these reports (a) aren’t trained to evaluate scientific research, and (b) are just parroting whatever newswire release they got that morning with no apparent fact-checking.
Thus, if staying informed is important to you—or you just want to be able to shut down all the fearmongers in your life—you need to learn how to read the original journal articles and form your own judgments. You don’t have to become an expert in every scientific field, nor a statistician, to do so. With a little know-how, you can at least decide if the popular media reports seem accurate and if any given study is worth your time and energy.
Where to Begin
First things first, locate the paper. If it’s behind a paywall, try searching Google Scholar to see if you can find it somewhere else. Sometimes authors upload pdfs to their personal webpages, for example.
Ten years ago, I would have told you to check the journal’s reputation next. Now there are so many different journals with different publishing standards popping up all the time, it’s hard to keep up. More and more researchers are choosing to publish in newer open access journals for various reasons.
Ideally, though, you want to see that the paper was peer reviewed. This means that it at least passed the hurdle of other academics agreeing that it was worth publishing. This is not a guarantee of quality, however, as any academic can tell you. If a paper isn’t peer reviewed, that’s not an automatic dismissal, but it’s worth noting.
Next, decide what type of paper you’re dealing with:
- Authors synthesize what is “known” and offer their own interpretations and suggestions for future directions.
- Rarely the ones getting popular press.
- Great if you want to know the new frontiers and topics of debates in a given field.
Original research, aka empirical research
- Report the findings of one of more studies where the researchers gather data, analyze it, and present their findings.
- Encompasses a wide variety of methods, including ethnographic and historical data, observational research, and laboratory-based studies.
Meta-analyses & systematic reviews
- Attempt to pool or summarize the findings of a group of studies on the same topic to understand the big picture.
- Combining smaller studies increases the number of people studied and the statistical power. It can also “wash out” minor problems in individual studies.
- Only as good as the studies going into them. If there are too few studies, or existing studies are of poor quality, pooling them does little. Usually these types of reports include a section describing the quality of the data.
Since popular media articles usually focus on empirical research papers, that’s what I’ll focus on today. Meta-analyses and reviews tend to be structured in the same way, so this applies to them as well.
Evaluating Empirical Research
Scientists understand that even the best designed studies will have issues. It’s easy to pick apart and criticize any study, but “issues” don’t make studies unreliable. As a smart reader, part of your job is to learn to recognize the flaws in a study, not to tear it down necessarily, but to put the findings in context.
For example, there is always a trade-off between real-world validity and experimental control. When a study is conducted in a laboratory—whether on humans, mice, or individual cells—the researchers try to control (hold constant) as many variables as possible except the ones in which they are interested. The more they control the environment, the more confident they can be in their findings… and the more artificial the conditions.
That’s not a bad thing. Well-controlled studies, called randomized control trials, are the best method we have of establishing causality. Ideally, though, they’d be interpreted alongside other studies, such as observational studies that detect the same phenomenon out in the world and other experiments that replicate the findings.
NO STUDY IS EVER MEANT TO STAND ON ITS OWN. If you take nothing else from this post, remember that. There is no perfect study. No matter how compelling the results, a single study can never be “conclusive,” nor should it be used to guide policy or even your behavioral choices. Studies are meant to build on one another and to contribute to a larger body of knowledge that as a whole leads us to better understand a phenomenon.
Reading a Scientific Journal Article
Most journal articles follow the same format: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusions. Let’s go through what you should get out of each section, even if you’re not a trained research scientist.
The Abstract succinctly describes the purpose, methods, and main findings of the paper. Sometimes you’ll see advice to skip the abstract. I disagree. The abstract can give you a basic idea of whether the paper is interesting to you and if it is likely to be (in)comprehensible.
DO NOT take the abstract at face value though. Too often the abstract oversimplifies or even blatantly misrepresents the findings. The biggest mistake you can make is reading only the abstract. It is better to skip it altogether than to read it alone.
The Introduction describes the current research question, i.e., the purpose of the study. The authors review past literature and set up why their study is interesting and needed. It’s okay to skim the intro.
While reading the introduction:
- Make a note of important terms and definitions.
- Try to summarize in your own words what general question the authors are trying to address. If you can, also identify the specific hypothesis they are testing. For example, the question might be how embarrassment affects people’s behavior in social interactions, and the specific hypothesis might be that people are more likely to insult people online when they feel embarrassed.
- You might choose to look up other studies cited in the introduction.
The Methods should describe exactly what the researchers did in enough detail that another researcher could replicate it. Methods can be dense, but I think this is the most important section in terms of figuring out how much stock you should be putting in the findings.
While reading the methods, figure out:
- Who/what were the subjects in this study? Animals, humans, cells?
- If this is a human study, how were people selected to participate? What are their demographics? How well does the sample represent the general population or the population of interest?
- What type of study is this?
- Observational: observing their subjects, usually in the natural environment
- Questionnaire/survey: asking the subject questions such as opinion surveys, behavioral recall (e.g., how well they slept, what they ate), and standardized questionnaires (e.g., personality tests)
- Experimental: researchers manipulate one or more variables and measure the effects
- If this is an experiment, is there a control condition—a no-treatment condition used as a baseline for comparison?
- How were the variables operationalized and measured? For example, if the study is designed to compare low-carb and high-carb diets, how did the researchers define “low” and “high?” How did they figure out what people were eating?
Some red flags that should give you pause about the reliability of the findings are:
- Small or unrepresentative sample (although “small” can be relative).
- Lack of a control condition in experimental designs.
- Variables operationalized in a way that doesn’t make sense, for example “low-carb” diets that include 150+ grams of carbs per day.
- Variables measured questionably, as with the Food Frequency Questionnaire.
The Results present the statistical analyses. This is unsurprisingly the most intimidating section for a lot of people. You don’t need to understand statistics to get a sense of the data, however.
While reading the results:
- Start by looking at any tables and figures. Try to form your own impression of the findings.
- If you aren’t familiar with statistical tests, do your best to read what they authors say about the data, paying attention to which effects they are highlighting. Refer back to the tables and figures and see if what they’re saying jibes with what you see.
- Pay attention to the real magnitude of any differences. Just because two groups are statistically different or something changes after an intervention doesn’t make it important. See if you can figure out in concrete terms how much the groups differed, for example. If data are only reported in percentages or relative risk, be wary of drawing firm conclusions.
It can take a fair amount of effort to decipher a results section. Sometimes you have to download supplementary data files to get the raw numbers you’re looking for.
The Discussion or Conclusions summarize what the study was about. The authors offer their interpretation of the data, going into detail about what they think the results actually mean. They should also discuss the limitations of the study.
While reading the discussion:
- Use your own judgment to decide if you think the authors are accurately characterizing their findings. Do you agree with their interpretation? Are they forthcoming about the limitations of their study?
- Concrete statements like “proved.” Hypotheses can be supported, not proven.
- Talking in causal terms when the data is correlational! As I said above, well-controlled experimental designs are the only types of research that can possibly speak to causal effects. Questionnaire, survey, and historical data can tell you when variables are potentially related, but they say nothing about what causes what. Anytime authors use words like “caused,” “led to,” or “_[X]_ increased/decreased _[Y]_” about variables they didn’t manipulate in their study, they are either being sloppy or intentionally misleading.
What about Bias?
Bias is tricky. Even the best intentioned scientists can fall victim to bias at all stages of the research process. You certainly want to know who funded the study and if the researchers have any conflicts of interest. That doesn’t you should flatly dismiss every study that could potentially be biased, but it’s important to note and keep in mind. Journal papers should list conflicts of interest.
Solicit Other Opinions
Once you feel like you have your own opinion about the research, see what other knowledgeable people you trust have to say. I have a handful of people I trust for opinions—Mark, of course, Chris Kresser, and Robb Wolf being a few. Besides fact-checking yourself, this is a good way to learn more about what to look for when reading original research.
To be clear, I don’t think it’s important that you read every single study the popular media grabs hold of. It’s often okay just to go to your trusted experts and see what they say. However, if a report has you really concerned, or your interest is particularly piqued, this is a good skill to have.
Remember my admonition: No study is meant to stand alone. That means don’t put too much stock in any one research paper. It also means don’t dismiss a study because it’s imperfect, narrow in scope, or you can otherwise find flaws. This is how science moves forward—slowly, one (imperfect) study at a time.
That’s it for today. Share your questions and observations below, and thanks for reading.
LIFE IN THE 21ST CENTURY: The Rise Of Restaurants With No Diners As Apps Take Orders. “Inside a bright red building in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, cooks plunge baskets of french fries into hot oil, make chicken sandwiches and wrap falafel in pita bread. If you’ve been in a restaurant kitchen, it’s a familiar scene. But what’s missing here are waiters and customers. Every dish is placed in a to-go box or bag. Delivery drivers line up in a waiting area ready for the name on their order to be called. Behind the counter, racks of metal shelves hold bags of food. Each bag sports a round, red sticker with the logo of DoorDash, America’s biggest food delivery app. DoorDash manages this building, the drivers, the counter staff — everything but the food, which is made by five restaurants that are renting kitchens here.”
What do you call a restaurant with no diners? A factory.
WHAT HAPPENED? IN A WORD, DEMOCRATS:
That kind of thing is only a threat to the Republic if a GOP president does it. Also related:
They’ll rue normalizing this sort of thing when the Fusion GPS emails all come out. But they’ll just pretend that’s the first time anything like that ever happened.
INCLUDING FROM DONALD TRUMP, PRESUMABLY: Hillary Says She Has Been ‘Deluged’ With Requests to Run fo…
INCLUDING FROM DONALD TRUMP, PRESUMABLY: Hillary Says She Has Been ‘Deluged’ With Requests to Run for President Again.
YEP: Unprecedented Leaks Underscore Deep Discontent Inside China. China spent decades putting Mao’s excesses behind them; Xi’s effort to be Mao II cuts directly against that.
HE’S TURNING OUT TO BE EVEN MORE AWFUL THAN I EXPECTED: In Appeal to Hard Left, Bloomberg Praises C…
HE’S TURNING OUT TO BE EVEN MORE AWFUL THAN I EXPECTED: In Appeal to Hard Left, Bloomberg Praises Chinese Communism. “It may be difficult to discern the logic of Bloomberg’s apologia for Xi. But it’s quite easy to posit a logical reason for Bloomberg to spew illogical apologies for the Communist Party: The billionaire has vast financial interests in China, and those interests have allegedly compromised his civic-minded endeavors in the past. In 2013, the New York Times reported that Bloomberg News had killed an investigation that had threatened to upset Chinese officials.”
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: A convicted German murderer won the right to have all mention of his crime …
THE ENEMY WITHIN: Government workers more likely to support socialism, repealing Second Amendment: …
#JOURNALISM: Bloomberg News will only investigate Donald Trump, not Mike Bloomberg or any of the De…
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN: As School District Implements Busing Over Near-Unanimous Opposition, Ch…
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN: As School District Implements Busing Over Near-Unanimous Opposition, Chinese Immigrants See Communism. “The Howard County, Maryland, school board voted to implement a massive, 1970s-style busing program Thursday, despite overwhelming opposition. After one vote failed, members went into a back room, and when they came out, one of the members who voted ‘no’ was crying. They did a do-over and she changed her vote. Board member Jennifer Mallo lectured to constituents who voiced displeasure, saying it was a ‘privilege’ that they got to witness the meeting, admonishing them not criticize her on social media, and complaining about her salary. Immigrants from China and the former Soviet Union said that what they were witnessing reminded them of the totalitarian regimes where they grew up.”
I’D FAVOR MAKING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS PERSONALLY LIABLE FOR BAD DECISIONS: California Regulators Sh…
I’D FAVOR MAKING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS PERSONALLY LIABLE FOR BAD DECISIONS: California Regulators Shut Down a Distillery for Serving Alcohol.
“While Type 74 license states that distilleries can only serve up to 1.5 oz. of alcohol per person per day, we are allowed to have private events, in which the drink restriction is waived,” Blinking Owl explains. “It is under this section of code which many small distilleries in the state have found a much-needed revenue source by hosting private events or functions. To that end, we segregated private events with wristbands, something we believed the public was accustomed to and well understood the meaning of, and we subsequently operated in a manner we understood to be in complete compliance.”
That seems eminently reasonable. But what seems eminently reasonable to a business often strikes regulators—who are interpreting the same, oftentimes poorly worded regulations that businesses are, but with an eye to punishing scofflaws—as something entirely different. Just how the temporary closure came about demonstrates this fact.
Before making his first undercover visit, according to his account, ABC trade enforcement officer Eric Gray did not speak with anyone at Blinking Owl about being part of a private party. When he arrived at the distillery, he was served one drink and was told Blinking Owl could not serve him another legally. He paid and left.
Before his next visit, Agent Gray called Blinking Owl. He was told this met the requirements for being considered a private party. After arriving at the distillery, Blinking Owl confirmed Gray had called ahead to be placed on a private party guest list and was served a second drink.
It was this second visit that caused Agent Gray to conclude Blinking Owl had violated ABC rules, allegedly “by exceeding the amount of 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits that is permitted to be served per person per day by selling two separate cocktails to Department Agents that contained 1.5 ounce in each drink.”
For this purported transgression, the state chose last week to punish Blinking Owl by forcing the distillery to close for 25 days.
But we can at least make clear that Eric Gray seems like kind of a jerk.
Plus: “These laws largely serve no purpose other than to ensnare small business owners and produce fines for agencies that struggle to justify their own existence.”
DON’T DO THIS: Russian ‘Popeye’ has 3 pounds of ‘dead’ muscle removed after DIY bodybuilding inject…
DON’T DO THIS: Russian ‘Popeye’ has 3 pounds of ‘dead’ muscle removed after DIY bodybuilding injections. You’re not building your body when you inject oil into your muscles to create fake size.
CHINA DYSTOPIA: The Chinese Govt Is Scanning Churchgoers’ Faces, Fingers.. “Those believers who do not have their biometric data in the system will not be allowed into churches in the future.”
MEAT IS HEALTH FOOD: Meat, Saturated Fat, and Long Life.
THIS WOULD MAKE A GREAT MOVIE, EXCEPT THAT HOLLYWOOD WOULD NEVER MAKE A MOVIE THAT WOULD OFFEND CHIN…
THIS WOULD MAKE A GREAT MOVIE, EXCEPT THAT HOLLYWOOD WOULD NEVER MAKE A MOVIE THAT WOULD OFFEND CHINA: Besieged Hong Kong protesters resort to daring sewer escapes.
So the United States has “the world’s highest rate of children in detention.” Is this worth reporting? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, Agence France-Presse, or AFP, and Reuters did report it, attributing the information to a “United Nations study” on migrant children detained at the US-Mexico border.
Then the two agencies retracted the story. Deleted, withdrew, demolished. If they could have used one of those Men in Black memory-zappers on us, they would have. Sheepishly, the two news organizations explained that, you see, the UN data was from 2015 — part of a border crackdown that had begun years earlier.
We all know who the president was in 2015. It wasn’t evil, child-caging monster President Trump. It was that nice, compassionate, child-caging monster President Barack Obama.
Zap. The story made Obama look bad. Hence the story was removed. Not updated or corrected, removed.
SOME PEOPLE THINK HIGHER ED IS A SCAM THAT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. BUT WHY? University Of Florida Wants $2 Million Research Prize Won By Professors.
NEW SOCIALIST “IT GIRL” CONTINUES TO PAY DIVIDENDS: Impeachment “is not just about something that has occurred, this is about preventing a potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told CNN yesterday.
Or as Texas Rep. Chip Roy responds, “So – wait – who is it that is using the power of government for political purposes?”
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): We Should Believe in Climate Change as If It’s a Religion, Not a Science. …
Actually admitting it's a religion. Wow.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): We Should Believe in Climate Change as If It’s a Religion, Not a Science.
“…These are times that call for us to do those things that we believe in, and to march, and not just to march, cause that’s important to show solidarity, but then to do those things such as voter registration, get people out to vote, so that we can have people here who are truly committed to human rights, environmental rights — climate change…believe in climate change as though it’s a religion, it’s not a science — and all the things that need to be done, and there is a lot,” Sen. Hirono told the crowd.
While Nietzsche assured the Jurassic “woke” class of the late 19th century that “God is dead,” most of the branches of the “Progressivism” that followed are forms of a substitute religion to fill the void, including both radical environmentalism, and even socialist health care. As the late Tom Wolfe wrote in his epochal 1976 article, “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” “It is entirely possible that in the long run historians will regard the entire New Left experience as not so much a political as a religious episode wrapped in semi military gear and guerrilla talk.” (That line was written with early ‘70s radical chic in mind, but reverberates quite nicely today, given Antifa’s current love of paramilitary cosplay.)