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Back to the Wall

Jim Windle writes:

Funny you should blog about Jaynes. Just a couple of days ago I was looking for something in his book’s References/Bibliography (it along with “Godel, Escher, Bach” and “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” have bibliographies which I find not just useful but entertaining), and ran across something I wanted to send you but I was going to wait until I could track down a copy of the actual referenced paper. But since Jayne’s is the current topic here the cited work and his comment which I thought might amuse you relating to our previous exchange. From “References”:

Boring, E.G. (1955), ‘The present status of parapsychology’, Am. Sci., 43, 108-16
Concludes that the curious phenomena to be studied is the behavior of parapsychologists. Points out that, having observed any fact, attempts to prove that no natural explanation of it exists are logically impossible; one cannot prove a universal negative (quantum theorist who deny the existence of casual explanations please take note)

And just for the record, I’m more comfortable with quantum uncertainty, to the extent I understand it, than Jaynes. And I don’t fully agree about not being able to prove a negative. The ancient Greeks proved long again that there’s no largest prime number. I guess you just have to be careful about how you define the negative.

Amusing, and of course it relates to some of our recent discussions about unreplicable work in the social and behavioral sciences, including various large literatures which seem to be based on little more than the shuffling of noise, the ability of certain theories to explain any possible patterns in data, and the willingness of journals to publish any sort of junk as long as it combines an attractive storyline with “p less than 0.05.”

It’s only been 63 years, I guess no reason to expect much progress!

One Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Quote from above:

    “Amusing, and of course it relates to some of our recent discussions about unreplicable work in the social and behavioral sciences, including various large literatures which seem to be based on little more than the shuffling of noise, the ability of certain theories to explain any possible patterns in data, and the willingness of journals to publish any sort of junk as long as it combines an attractive storyline with “p less than 0.05.”

    It’s only been 63 years, I guess no reason to expect much progress!”

    Uhm, you obviously haven’t heard (what, by the way, can totally become the new “it was all because of the incentives”-narrative for the coming years) that “science is a process” and similar sentences. Why should someone expect, or why should there even be, any “progress” when it’s all about the “process”! That narrative is (also) a great way to simply keep doing what you are doing, keep receiving funding, etc.

    In light of this all, i’d like to refer to the following two things:

    1) A recent discussion on this blog which could make clear that we could be back at square 1 concerning the “facial feedback hypothesis” after 40+ years of “research”: http://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2018/11/01/facial-feedback-findings-suggest-minute-differences-experimental-protocol-might-lead-theoretically-meaningful-changes-outcomes/#comment-911003

    2) Binswanger’s 2014 “Excellence by nonsense” paper (https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-00026-8_3), where the following is written:

    “The example he gave referred to a governmental construction project in which workers were employed digging ditches and then filling them up again. Even if useless, such a program paid by government funds will cause an increase in the demand for construction activities and thus stimulate the economy. Today’s nonsense production in science is much more sophisticated than the nonsense of digging ditches and filling them up again as the nonsense is disguised to the general public.”

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