How can we corral data to reveal the big picture?
By BEN GOLDACRE - GUARDIAN
Added: Sat, 21 May 2011 09:38:39 UTC
Here's no surprise: beliefs that we imagine to be rational are bound up in all kinds of other stuff. Political stances, for example, correlate with various personality features. One major review in 2003 looked at 38 different studies, containing data on 20,000 participants, and found that overall, political conservatism was associated with things such as death anxiety, fear of threat and loss, intolerance of uncertainty, a lack of openness to experience, and a need for order, structure and closure.
Beliefs can also be modified by their immediate context. One study from 2004, for example, found that when you make people think about death ("please briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you") they are more likely to endorse an essay discussing how brilliant George Bush was in his response to 9/11.
A new study looks at intelligent design, the more superficially palatable form of creationism, promoted by some religious groups, which claims that life is too complex to have arisen through evolution and natural selection. Intelligent design implies a reassuring universe, with a supernatural creator, and it turns out that if you make people think about death, they're less likely to approve of a Richard Dawkins essay, and more likely to rate intelligent design highly.
Dave Mosher - National Geographic Comments
The sun is the roundest natural object ever precisely measured, astronomers say.
Geraint Jones - The Guardian Comments
Scientists who encoded the book say it could soon be cheaper to store information in DNA than in conventional digital devices
Ed Yong - Nature News Comments
Under the supervision of guards and graduate students, a small group of prisoners is breeding the beautiful orange-and-white insects in a greenhouse outside the prison. They have even carried out research to show what plants the butterfly prefers to lay its eggs on.
- - Scientific American Comments
Teachers, scientists and policymakers have drafted ambitious new education standards. All 50 states should adopt them
John Roach - NBC News Comments
An artificial “brain” built by a 17-year-old whiz kid from Florida is able to accurately assess tissue samples for signs of breast cancer, providing more confidence to a minimally invasive procedure.
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Pulling bad science apart is the best teaching gimmick I know for explaining how good science works
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If you have a serious new claim to make, it should go through scientific publication and peer review before you present it to the media