Is it me, or are sample sizes just getting smaller? I mean, last time round we had that scare story warning us that the art of parenting is being destroyed by smartphones — you know, the one based on observations of 40 adults in a fast food restaurant in Boston. Turns out that 40 adults was just scientific extravagance. You can actually spot the end of humankind on a much smaller budget.
This time our evidence of the descent of humankind into species-wide stupidity is from a study sample comprising twelve children. Yes, twelve.
The sample was boosted by the inclusion of some chimpanzees. Four chimpanzees to be exact, although only one of them proved to be of any interest (I presume the other three just scratched themselves and threw dirt at the experimenters). Continue reading “Stop Press: Some kids are crap at computer games, one chimp is not”
Here is a Guest Blog I was invited to write for the folks over at Neuroscience Ireland. I guess this is because I’ve recently been taxonomised as a “Neuroblogger.” It has heft, but such is the nature of being a guest: people expect you to talk. See it in its original habitat, along with all the other guests, at the Neuroscience Ireland Blog.
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably end up saying it again: the correlation fallacy (wherein observers attribute causal effect to a coincidence) is not as simple as it is often portrayed. For one thing, the mantra that “correlation does not imply causation” tends to draw attention from the fact that correlation is, after all, a necessary precondition for causation: causality causes, and is therefore correlated with, correlation. The problem is that while a correlation between two variables does not necessarily mean that one caused the other — in other words, while correlation does not ‘cause’ causation — it does elevate the logical probability that causality is in play.
Correlation fallacies of various kinds generate regular confusion among media commentators tasked with interpreting the conclusions of research. One can even recall the time the Daily Mail sent to press an entire article referring to a “casual” link between pornography and crime. For various methodological reasons, correlation-based inference is very common in neuroscience, making the associated problems with media reporting all the more acute: think Susan Greenfield, and other mass panics about internet use and the brain.
One aspect of this has always intrigued me. The inherent ambiguity of a correlation means that interpreting it becomes something like a projective test of personality, wherein the conclusions drawn reflect the scientist’s own dispositions and value-systems rather than the reality under empirical scrutiny. In short, the meaning you extract from a correlation can say as much about you as it does about the data.
Therefore, when neuroscientists study a topic like religion or religiosity, and when journalists report on it in the media, it is tempting to consider whether people’s personal values can be inferred from the way results are explained.
Take this recent study as reported by the UK’s Independent newspaper: Continue reading ““On Correlations and Bias””
So apparently, the dinosaurs are extinct. That’s not really news of course (time to let it go, Nessie fans). But what is making the news is some new research about how those terrible lizards ended up shuffling off this mortal coil en masse.
There is quite good geological evidence that some kind of massive catastrophic event occurred around 65 million years ago, pretty much around about the same time that dinosaurs stopped appearing in the fossil record. Most kids today will tell you that this was caused by a large asteroid (a theory known as the Alvarez impact hypothesis), but some scientists argue with these kids and believe instead that those geological remnants are not inconsistent with multiple asteroidal impacts, or perhaps with the world’s biggest volcano going ‘pop’ (or something).
A dinosaur earlier this year. Obviously.
But today we saw reports offering an alternative theory. Continue reading “Headline-spectrum of the day: Dino-apocalypse by ‘wind’”