How to write consistently boring scientific literature

As I sit here, trying to write a paper, I found this article entitled “How to write consistently boring scientific literature” very interesting. (via The Annals of Improbably Research”

I’m afraid it’s behind a paywall, so I’ll summarize their findings.
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The 4th Largest Religion: No Religion

Next week’s New Yorker makes a point that I hadn’t considered, perhaps because there is so much religiosity in America. In a review of recently-published books on atheism, Anthony Gottlieb writes:

…one can venture conservative estimates of the number of unbelievers in the world today. Reviewing a large number of studies among some fifty countries, Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College, in Claremont, California, puts the figure at between five hundred million and seven hundred and fifty million. This excludes such highly populated places as Brazil, Iran, Indonesia, and Nigeria, for which information is lacking or patchy. Even the low estimate of five hundred million would make unbelief the fourth-largest persuasion in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. It is also by far the youngest, with no significant presence in the West before the eighteenth century. Who can say what the landscape will look like once unbelief has enjoyed a past as long as Islam’s–let alone as long as Christianity’s? God is assuredly not on the side of the unbelievers, but history may yet be.

It’s quite nice to broaden one’s view, and realize that one isn’t so lonely being an atheist/agnostic in this world.

All quiet on the denialist front

This is good. I’ll get some writing (non-blog) done. However I’d like to pose the rare political question based on the coverage of last night’s debate. Everyone from CNN to the National Review is all atwitter over Giuliani’s brash response to the question about whether the first Gulf War might have had something to do with 9/11. His response? Angrily denouncing the idea that anyone could find blame for anything America has done as a potential reason for the attack (I bet the answer would have been different if they suggested it was Clinton’s fault).

Have we really failed to move past this? Are there still people who believe that we were just walking along, minding our own business when terrorists decided to attack us for our freedom?
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Hey Framers, what do you think of this?

Here’s an interesting article in BBC which suggests that more hysterical messages on climate change might fall on deaf ears.

Professor Mike Hulme, of the UK’s Tyndall Centre, has been conducting research on people’s attitudes to media portrayals of a catastrophic future.

He says strong messages designed to prompt people to change behaviour only seem to generate apathy.

His initial findings will be shown to a meeting run by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

The study compared the responses of a group of people shown sensational media coverage with those given the more sober information from scientific reports.

The initial findings suggest that those shown doom-laden messages tended to believe the problem could come to a head further into the future. This group also felt there was little they could do to affect the planet’s future.

“Not only is this not a good way of presenting climate change science, but even in trying to effect change, it’s self-defeating,” Professor Hulme said.

Now as someone who can’t stand it when I read hysterical articles on the environment like those from the indepedent which decry everything from cell-phones killing bees (the evidence is pretty poor) to “electronic smog” from wireless internet connections causing people to get sick.

For an example of this contrast between good scientific reading that informs rather than terrorizes, compare the Independent’s version, to the New York Times’ far superior article. The Independent’s writing on the environment, in my opinion, undermines legitimate environmentalism by making environmental concerns look, well, stupid and insane.

I’ll be curious to see this actual research come out so we can check out the methodology, but based upon the range of messages I’ve seen on the science of environmentalism, I welcome a call for less idiotic and hysterical coverage. At the very least I think it makes people disbelieve legitimate information about threats to the environment. For a lengthier article from Hulme see this one from the BBC, or some of his other writings. I think he’s got a point about the message, and if the research really shows that the messages have to be framed differently, then it’s something we should consider when we write about the science of climate change.

The Wall Street Journal, A Denialist Debunker?

I’m a real fan of the Wall Street Journal. I read it on the BART every morning, to the displeasure of my knee-jerk co-passengers.

Why is the Journal awesome? Because days like today, you find reporting showing how branding is often an illusion, how cheaper printer cartridges are actually more expensive, and how formaldehyde is used as a preservative in Asia. Denialists may be reading the opinion page, but the rest of the paper seems to highlight the many difficulties and imperfections in the market–from insider trading to outrageous executive pay. All in the same day.

Back to the opinion page…it’s crazy. The editors are infatuated with boogeymen. Today, they hit four of them: the IRS, Elliott Spitzer, the trial lawyers, and George Soros. And the facts asserted on it often differ from the reporting elsewhere in the paper. Going forward, I’m going to document examples of this, and I invite you to do so as well!

Epstein: FDA Deprives “Informed Patients” Choice in Care, But So Does the Market

Okay, I’m going to open a can of worms, and I’ll need the commentors to help me with this one.

Last week, Professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago School of Law published an oped in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein’s a charming fellow, and I like him, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world where he is in charge of things! Most of the article discusses pharmaceutical regulation and the changing winds in Congress. But he ends with this whopper, which isn’t really even related to his main argument, and exposes the Journal’s editorial excess:
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Off to Montreal

I’m going to be less active for a few days. Going to Montreal (for the first time) for the 17th Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy. I’ll be moderating a panel on the new landscape of online advertising, featuring Microsoft’s Kim Howell, the Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester, and Mike Zaneis of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. There may be some denialism afoot, in which case I’ll project a card or two on the screen.

Anyone have any restaurant suggestions?

Hello Scienceblogs

Hello and welcome to denialism blog.

Here we will discuss the problem of denialists, their standard arguing techniques, how to identify denialists and/or cranks, and discuss topics of general interest such as skepticism, medicine, law and science. I’ll be taking on denialists in the sciences, while my brother, Chris, will be geared more towards the legal and policy implications of industry groups using denialist arguments to prevent sound policies.
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