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Edge.og 2014: What scientific ideas need to be retired/ part 1 - Input Junkie
January 9th, 2016
09:59 am


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Edge.og 2014: What scientific ideas need to be retired/ part 1
Every year, Edge publishes answers to a hopefully interesting question. 2014 was about scientific ideas that are ready for retirement...

I've pulled out the bits that I think are interesting, and the result is long enough that I'm posting it in several chunks. I was running out of attention now and then, so if you think I might have missed more good stuff, I suggest reading the Edge link from the bottom up.

Buckyballs behave like light particles in double slit experiments. I'm not sure what it means, but this was my first what-the-fucking-fuck moment of the year. May we all have many more.
WikipediaA dramatic series of experiments emphasizing the action of gravity in relation to wave–particle duality was conducted in the 1970s using the neutron interferometer.[22] Neutrons, one of the components of the atomic nucleus, provide much of the mass of a nucleus and thus of ordinary matter. In the neutron interferometer, they act as quantum-mechanical waves directly subject to the force of gravity. While the results were not surprising since gravity was known to act on everything, including light (see tests of general relativity and the Pound–Rebka falling photon experiment), the self-interference of the quantum mechanical wave of a massive fermion in a gravitational field had never been experimentally confirmed before.

In 1999, the diffraction of C60 fullerenes by researchers from the University of Vienna was reported.[23] Fullerenes are comparatively large and massive objects, having an atomic mass of about 720 u. The de Broglie wavelength is 2.5 pm, whereas the diameter of the molecule is about 1 nm, about 400 times larger. In 2012, these far-field diffraction experiments could be extended to phthalocyanine molecules and their heavier derivatives, which are composed of 58 and 114 atoms respectively. In these experiments the build-up of such interference patterns could be recorded in real time and with single molecule sensitivity.[24][25]

In 2003, the Vienna group also demonstrated the wave nature of tetraphenylporphyrin[26]—a flat biodye with an extension of about 2 nm and a mass of 614 u. For this demonstration they employed a near-field Talbot Lau interferometer.[27][28] In the same interferometer they also found interference fringes for C60F48., a fluorinated buckyball with a mass of about 1600 u, composed of 108 atoms.[26] Large molecules are already so complex that they give experimental access to some aspects of the quantum-classical interface, i.e., to certain decoherence mechanisms.[29][30] In 2011, the interference of molecules as heavy as 6910 u could be demonstrated in a Kapitza–Dirac–Talbot–Lau interferometer.[31] In 2013, the interference of molecules beyond 10,000 u has been demonstrated.[32]

Whether objects heavier than the Planck mass (about the weight of a large bacterium) have a de Broglie wavelength is theoretically unclear and experimentally unreachable; above the Planck mass a particle's Compton wavelength would be smaller than the Planck length and its own Schwarzschild radius, a scale at which current theories of physics may break down or need to be replaced by more general ones.[33]

People's responses in the Asch experiments (will people make mistakes about the length of a line if they're under social pressure to get it wrong?) were much less extreme than the common understanding of the experiment. They still mostly got it right, and there's a lot of individual variation in how much people are affected by social pressure.
In the confederate condition also, the majority of participants’ responses remained correct (63.2 per cent), but a sizable minority of responses conformed to the confederate (incorrect) answer (36.8 per cent). The responses revealed strong individual differences: Only 5 percent of participants were always swayed by the crowd. 25 percent of the sample consistently defied majority opinion, with the rest conforming on some trials. An examination of all critical trials in the experimental group revealed that one-third of all responses were incorrect. These incorrect responses often matched the incorrect response of the majority group (i.e., confederates). Overall, 75% of participants gave at least one incorrect answer out of the 12 critical trials.[1]

Large randomized control studies may prove much less than you think.... especially if the subjects know what's going on. The people in the control group may undertake the intervention on their own. The people in the experimental group may not do the intervention because it's harder than it sounded to the scientists.

A lot of the essays so far have been about people knowing less than they think they do.

Scientific research needs better organization and metadata. In particular, it needs a system which is both better at indicating that research has been retracted and (this is harder) tracking which research is dependent on other research so that anything based on retracted research can be retracted itself, or at least checked.

Citations should be marked by whether the cited work is considered merely true or important in addition to being true. (Oy, the politics!) Also, a work can get a citation because it's being challenged and this should be distinguished from being cited for truth.

Git is recommended as a good system for keeping track of changes in stored data.

The article also suggests having a beta reader system for scientific journal articles rather than slow and anonymous peer review.

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(3 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:January 9th, 2016 04:46 pm (UTC)
Somewhat related: A study indicates that people give more accurate answers to factual political questions if they have a financial incentive.
[User Picture]
Date:January 9th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
Git is the worst form of version control, except for all the others...

Edited at 2016-01-09 04:52 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2016 01:52 pm (UTC)
The thing about large, randomized trials got me thinking tangentially about something else that I think should be retired: psychological experiments.

I've got two fundamental reasons: first, that they are hopelessly tangled up in the assumptions of the tester and of society at large (tell us more about societal assumptions than anything else), and second, because the more serious the issue under examination, the wronger I think it is to manipulate people--experiment on them--simply to gain knowledge. It treats people as object and means to ends, and I think it's a dangerous way to think about others.

But, putting that aside and getting back to the thing about randomized trials, I think it's fascinating that people will try to make the change themselves. Way to go, humans :-)
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