Bookmarked The credibility of science is damaged when universities brag about themselves by Freelance AuthorFreelance Author (

About 25 years ago, it was predicted that attention would come to dominate the marketplace. The prediction was correct. Science is not immune to the “attention economy.” In fact, it plays an active role in it. However, the things that are seen as being of value to individual scientists or institutions, like media attention, are undermining public trust and devaluing science as a collective resource.

Adrian Lenardic and Johnny Seales argue that the rewarding of attention economy has corrupted scientific research. They explain how historically, scientists would distribute findings amongst their peers before going public with those that findings that were ‘breakthroughs’. Whereas these days the roles have been flipped. Results are firstly presented to public before going through the scrutiny of the scientific community. One of the particular challenges with this is that social media does not usually reward uncertainty and nuance.

Attention economy has changed the ecosystem. Results are now presented to the public as influential well before community assessment can take place. What often turns out to be small findings and/or non-reproducible results are hyped as significant enough to share with the public. The insatiable drive for attention leads to a framing of results in a way that downplays uncertainty, as well as viable alternative hypotheses. It also devalues studies that reproduce (or fail to reproduce) previous results.

This is something that I noticed with the release of pre-prints associated with COVID. For me this also highlighted my own deficiencies in regards to understanding of scientific research, but maybe that is a part of this wider change.

Watched Degrees of Uncertainty – A documentary about climate change and public trust in science by Neil Halloran from

A data-driven documentary about Neil Halloran.

As Neil Halloran dives into the world of hard and soft science and askes the question, “when can we be sure enough?” He suggests that we need to be sceptical in order to develop a larger picture of truth. With this in mind, he traces the data and differences associated with global warming, before suggesting that we can be sure enough to say that drastic change is needed. In addition to the captivating narrative, Halloran also provides interactive moments for the skeptical viewer to take their own dive into the evidence and research.

In a separate piece of data journalism, the team at the ABC News Story Lab provide a take on acting now and how this buys us more time later.

So the transition is coming, but if Australia sits on its hands for five years it will waste the best chance it has to create the industries that could turn it into an energy superpower.

If you live in a part of Australia that’s reliant on fossil fuel jobs, it is easy to see the appeal of the message “we can’t turn things off tomorrow”. But if we keep following that thinking, tomorrow won’t be in 2050 — it will be just around the corner.

Liked Perseverance’s eyes see a different Mars (Ars Technica)

“Finding life on Mars will not be, ‘Such and such an instrument sees something.’ It’ll be, ‘All the instruments saw this, that, and the other thing, and the interpretation makes life reasonable,” Allwood says. “There’s no smoking gun. It’s a complicated tapestry.” And like a good tapestry, the full image only emerges from a warp and weft of color, carefully threaded together.

Bookmarked COVID-19 Changed Science Forever by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)

The scientific community spent the pre-pandemic years designing faster ways of doing experiments, sharing data, and developing vaccines, allowing it to mobilize quickly when COVID‑19 emerged. Its goal now should be to address its many lingering weaknesses. Warped incentives, wasteful practices, overconfidence, inequality, a biomedical bias—COVID‑19 has exposed them all. And in doing so, it offers the world of science a chance to practice one of its most important qualities: self-correction.

Ed Yong continues his reporting of the coronavirus, this time he unpacks the steps associated with getting to a point where we have a vaccine. He talks about the way in which many scientists pivoted, the various treatments that have been uncovered and the challenges that have arisen, especially in regards to pre-prints.

In some cases, bad papers helped shape the public narrative of the pandemic. On March 16, two biogeographers published a preprint arguing that COVID‑19 will “marginally affect the tropics” because it fares poorly in warm, humid conditions. Disease experts quickly noted that techniques like the ones the duo used are meant for modeling the geographic ranges of animal and plant species or vector-borne pathogens, and are ill-suited to simulating the spread of viruses like SARS-CoV-2. But their claim was picked up by more than 50 news outlets and echoed by the United Nations World Food Program. COVID‑19 has since run rampant in many tropical countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, and Colombia—and the preprint’s authors have qualified their conclusions in later versions of the paper. “It takes a certain type of person to think that weeks of reading papers gives them more perspective than someone with a Ph.D. on that subject, and that type of person has gotten a lot of airtime in this pandemic,” says Colin Carlson of Georgetown.

Liked On Randomized Trials and Medicine by zeynep (Insight)

In reality, while opposing masks has now become an ideological component of pandemic-denialism, some the problems I outline above permeate not just supporters of this president, but much of Western medical establishment as well. This is also why the instruction to “just follow the science” isn’t enough to address this pandemic. Yes, we should absolutely follow the science, but here’s the awful truth: we do not have a “science” that is fully up to the challenge, especially when it comes to understanding the intersection between human behavior and the pandemic, and the many complications and twists of the failings of our expert communities and how they relate to society. That task remains ahead of us.

Zeynep Tufekci explains why just ‘following the science’ is not enough. A part of the problem are the limitations to what can be measured when it comes to randomized trials.

The demand for a randomized trial proving the benefits to mask-wearers rests on one of the most important but least understood facts about why we started recommending masks in the first place: to prevent disease transmission to others. Mask-wearing is not an individual benefit, it’s a community benefit. Further, this discussion reveals some of the underlying reasons for our feeble response to this pandemic: reasons that go beyond the obvious and many failures of the OUTGOING (!) administration.
To have a proper study for masks for source-control, we’d need to enroll communities and do a cluster randomized study—comparing communities, not just individuals. That is both difficult and also with much less explanatory power than one would hope since pathogen is also overdispersed: some people get hit badly by the disease just by chance. That makes causal inference harder.

Liked Scientists, Stop Thinking Explaining Science Will Fix Things. It Won’t. (Slate Magazine)

In my own workshops, I’ve certainly been guilty of focusing on communication skills at the expense of strategy and not fully addressing the flawed deficit model. But I’m learning to better challenge scientists’ assumptions about how communication works. The deficit model, I’ve found, is difficult to unlearn. It’s very logical, and my hunch is that it comes naturally to scientists because most have largely spent their lives in school—whether as students, professors, or mentors—and the deficit model perfectly explains how a scientist learns science. But the obstacles faced by science communicators are not epistemological but cultural. The skills required are not those of a university lecturer but a rhetorician.

Liked Scratching Stuff: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

In case you were wondering, it is possible to make your own scratch cards. The process, as shown in this YouTube video, involves a combination of a glossy or coated surface (often with the help of tape), some acrylic paint, and some dish soap. Coating is a key element of a successful scratch-off, notes Prismtech Graphics. “Uncoated coverstocks can absorb quite a lot of varnish, and the toothy surface can provide such good adhesion to the scratch-off ink that it’s impossible to remove,” the firm notes on its blog.

Bookmarked The medications that change who we are (

They’ve been linked to road rage, pathological gambling, and complicated acts of fraud. It turns out many ordinary medications don’t just affect our bodies – they affect our brains.

It is interesting that culturally we are so willing to talk about the side effects of illegal drugs, however the fact that common drugs are ‘legal’ seems to make them somehow immune to criticism. This touches on the guessing game that is anaesthetics.
Liked Scientists perplexed by ‘blob’ which looks like a fungus but acts like an animal (ABC News)

Scientists are perplexed by the slime mould, which has no brain, mouth, stomach or eyes, yet is capable of learning, digesting food, has almost 720 sexes, can move without legs or wings and heals itself within two minutes if cut in half.

Bookmarked Why the Periodic Table of Elements Is More Important Than Ever (Bloomberg)

Matter still matters. And on the 150th anniversary of the periodic table’s formulation by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, it’s more important than it’s ever been.

Bloomberg collects together a number of essays exploring the various elements of the periodic table.
Bookmarked The deepest hole we have ever dug (

During the Cold War, the US and Soviets both created ambitious projects to drill deeper than ever before.

This sort of entrepreneurship sounds like an opportunity for Elon Musk


When Dutch artist Lotte Geevan lowered her microphone protected by a thermal shield down the German borehole, it picked up a deep rumbling sound that scientists couldn’t explain, a rumbling that made her “feel very small; it was the first time in my life this big ball we live on came to life, and it sounds haunting,” she says. “Some people thought it did sound like hell. Others thought they could hear the planet breathe.”

Bookmarked Once again the Daily Telegraph prefers a culture war to facts | Luke Pearson by Luke Pearson (the Guardian)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing in all of this is that for an article praising the scientific method and the importance of academic rigour it seems pretty likely Donnelly didn’t even bother to read any of the work he is critiquing.

I hope that people reading this article do though. Whether you are a teacher, parent, student or just one of the millions of Australians who laments the fact that you weren’t taught a better understanding of Indigenous science in schools, there is some really great information there, and in plenty of other places if you take the time to look.

Luke Pearson responds to criticism and concern over the inclusion of spear throwing and fire starting in the Australian Curriculum. He suggests that it represents a form of racism and ignorance. It is interesting reading this thinking about the work of Latour and the construction of truth and science.
Bookmarked Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science by Ava Kofman (

He spent decades deconstructing the ways that scientists claim their authority. Can his ideas help them regain that authority today?

In light of the release of Bruno Latour’s book Down to Earth in English, Ava Kofman unpacks some of the legacies of his ideas and the impact that they have had on science today. I was initially introduced to Latour and Actor-Network Theory (ANT) through Ian Guest.

Actor–network theory (ANT) is a theoretical and methodological approach to social theory where everything in the social and natural worlds exists in constantly shifting networks of relationship.source

Along with the concept of assemblages and rhizomatic learning, Latour’s work interests me in regards to better appreciating the connected nature of things.


Facts, Latour said, were “networked”; they stood or fell not on the strength of their inherent veracity but on the strength of the institutions and practices that produced them and made them intelligible. If this network broke down, the facts would go with them.

At the height of the conflict, the physicist Alan Sokal, who was under the impression that Latour and his S.T.S. colleagues thought that “the laws of physics are mere social conventions,” invited them to jump out the window of his 21st-floor apartment.

The election of Donald Trump, a president who invents the facts to suit his mood and goes after the credibility of anyone who contradicts him, would seem to represent the culmination of this epistemic rot. “Do you believe in reality?” is now the question that half of America wants to ask the president and his legion of supporters.

As early as 2004 he publicly expressed the fear that his critical “weapons,” or at least a grotesque caricature of them, were being “smuggled” to the other side, as corporate-funded climate skeptics used arguments about the constructed nature of knowledge to sow doubt around the scientific consensus on climate change.
But Latour believes that if the climate skeptics and other junk scientists have made anything clear, it’s that the traditional image of facts was never sustainable to begin with.

If anything, our current post-truth moment is less a product of Latour’s ideas than a validation of them. In the way that a person notices her body only once something goes wrong with it, we are becoming conscious of the role that Latourian networks play in producing and sustaining knowledge only now that those networks are under assault.

In Abidjan, Latour began to wonder what it would look like to study scientific knowledge not as a cognitive process but as an embodied cultural practice enabled by instruments, machinery and specific historical conditions. Would the mind of a scientist or an engineer from, say, California seem any more “modern” or “rational” than that of one from the Ivory Coast if it were studied independent of the education, the laboratory and the tools that shaped it and made its work possible?

Day-to-day research — what he termed science in the making — appeared not so much as a stepwise progression toward rational truth as a disorderly mass of stray observations, inconclusive results and fledgling explanations. Far from simply discovering facts, scientists seemed to be, as Latour and Woolgar wrote in “Laboratory Life,” “in the business of being convinced and convincing others.”

as soon as their propositions were turned into indisputable statements and peer-reviewed papers — what Latour called ready-made science — they claimed that such facts had always spoken for themselves. That is, only once the scientific community accepted something as true were the all-too-human processes behind it effectively erased or, as Latour put it, black-boxed.

My activity in this plane going to Canada was actually having an effect on the very spectacle of nature that I was seeing,” he told his Strasbourg audience. “In that sense, there is no outside anymore

With the advent of the Anthropocene, a word proposed by scientists around the turn of the century to designate a new epoch in which humanity has become tantamount to a geological force, Latour’s idea that humans and nonhumans are acting together — and that the earth reacts to those actions — now sounds a lot like common sense.

The great paradox of Latour’s life — one that is not lost on him — is that he has achieved a kind of great-man status even as so much of his work has sought to show that intellectual labor is anything but a solo endeavor.

Unlike most philosophers, for whom thinking is a sedentary activity, Latour insists on testing our taken-for-granted ideas about the world against the world itself.

Crowded into the little concrete room, we were seeing gravity as Latour had always seen it — not as the thing in itself, nor as a mental representation, but as scientific technology allowed us to see it. This, in Latour’s view, was the only way it could be seen. Gravity, he has argued time and again, was created and made visible by the labor and expertise of scientists, the government funding that paid for their education, the electricity that powered up the sluggish computer, the truck that transported the gravimeter to the mountaintop, the geophysicists who translated its readings into calculations and legible diagrams, and so on. Without this network, the invisible waves would remain lost to our senses.

via Stephen Downes