Category Archives: science

Samuel Arbesman : The Half-Life of Facts

Scientometrics is the science of measuring and analyzing science, and it began in 1947 when mathematician Derek J. de Solla Price as asked to store a complete set of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society temporarily in his house. He stacked them in order and noticed that the height of the stacks fit an exponential curve. Price then started to analyze all sorts of scientific data and concluded in 1960 that scientific knowledge had been growing steadily at a rate of 4.7% annually since the 17th century. Scientific data was doubling every 15 years. In 1965, he realized that the growth was a factor of 10 every half century.

Arbesman wanted to discover the half-life of the scientific facts we know. The decay in truth of clinical knowledge about cirrhosis and hepatitis is about 45 years. Half of what physicians thought they knew about liver diseases was wrong or obsolete 45 years later.

Facts are being manufactured all of the time, and many of them turn out to be wrong. There were 845,175 articles published in 2009 and recorded in PubMed. How many of them were replicated? Not many. In 2011, a study in the journal Nature reported that a team of researchers had been able to reproduce only six out of 53 landmark papers in preclinical cancer research.

Lots of this new information will be overlooked. Arbesman illustrates this by talking about when Harvard researchers decided to go back and look at all of the prior randomized control trials relating to heart attacks and the drug streptokinase between 1959 and 1988. In 1988, a trial showed that streptokinase was effective in treating heart attacks.

The researchers concluded that scientists could have easily found a statistically significant result in 1973 rather than 1988. The efficiency of streptokinase remained hidden in scientific literature for 15 years. These days, there are data combing companies working on ensuring that previous studies aren’t lost.

“We persist in only adding facts to our personal store of knowledge that jibe with what we already know, rather than assimilate new facts irrespective of how they fit into our worldview.” Samuel Arbesman

In order to keep facts actuated, people should always seek out new information. Instead of memorizing facts, something that could eventually be outsourced to the cloud, people should continually learn. The current growth rates will also have to slow down, as they could imply that everyone on the planet will one day be a scientist. via


Drill, Idiot, Drill


Imagine for a minute that attending the Republican convention in St. Paul, sitting in a skybox overlooking the convention floor, were observers from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. And imagine for a minute what these observers would have been doing when Rudy Giuliani led the delegates in a chant of “drill, baby, drill!”

I’ll tell you what they would have been doing: the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant louder than anyone in the hall — “Yes! Yes! Drill, America, drill!” — because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it.

Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology — fossil fuels — rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology — renewable energy? As I have argued before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution — on the eve of PCs and the Internet — is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. “Typewriters, baby, typewriters.”

.:T. Friedman’s op-ed Making America Stupid -> via the NY Times

Brave New World Order


So aparently Dubya was read a passage from [which is hilarious - he never read this $hit himself?] Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and ‘learned a lesson’ from the book – which was to ban further stem cell research.


First and foremost – this ninja here really thinks we believe that he took anything away from Brave New World, other than some racy talk of promiscuous women and ‘savages’? My ninjas, PLEASE.

In a new [PMNP: as of Dec. 2007] piece in Commentary magazine, Jay Lefkowitz — who advised Bush on stem cells — reveals how the President formulated his 2001 policy. While Bush heard from a variety of groups on both sides of the issue, the turning point appeared to come when Lefkowitz read from Aldous Huxley’s fictional novel, Brave New World, and scared Bush:

A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room.

“We’re tinkering with the boundaries of life here,” Bush said when I finished. “We’re on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there’s no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time.”

[FYI to Lefkowitz: anti-utopian novel = dystopian]

Seriously though – thanks for using this piece of literature to justify something that has nothing to do with the novel. Stem cells and Brave New World? This research isn’t about making test-tube babies, my ninjas – and even if it is in some cases, we can legislate against that specifically by addressing the problems we’ll undoubtedly be facing soon enough with designer babies, genetic engineering, etc. Not to mention that Bush and his administration have probably helped bring us closer to the real issues that Huxley was getting at – like an increasingly powerful government using technology to oppress/control it’s people, and the effects of excessive consumerism [I mean, $hit - they worship Henry Ford in the book] on a society. Using this as an example for your position against stem cell research is like citing Frankenstein while condemning the use of prosthetics.

And I just had to toss this in here, my favorite comment from the ‘Think Progress’ article:

Apparently no one has taken a copy of “1984″ into the oval office.

- G

Sure they did ‘G’ – Bush + Cheney just thought Orwell had written a ‘How To’.
::original article from Think Progress, via The New Republic:

[[brought to you by your friendly neighborhood orangemenace]]


Did you ever wonder how Luke’s mechanical arm actually worked?


The University of Pittsburgh School of Medecin’s resident ninja, Dr. Andrew Schwartz, is furhter down the path than anyone. In a few decades, imagine the shit ninjas will have figured out.

[Note: The dojo ninjas feel bad for the monkey. I’m sure this wasn’t a voluntary procedure … but it’s pretty incredible. Ninjas for Animal Rights, please vent]

“Move along, folks, no global warming to see here…”

By request, we head over to Capitol Hill…

senate seal

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on Tuesday to discuss the effects of climate change on public health. Among those called to testify was the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government’s main agency for monitoring illness and public health threats. You can read the text of her testimony here.

Now, you may have noticed that this testimony is less than comprehensive. It talks at length about the CDC’s ability to prepare for threats, and its capacity to monitor potential problems, which is interesting, but since that’s sort of fundamental to the purpose of the CDC, not terribly enlightening. Given that the hearing was entitled “Examining the Human Health Impacts of Global Warming,” one might think that America’s top agency for monitoring human health might talk about those impacts. But they didn’t. Did they forget? Have they actually just not bothered to look into it?

Oh, no, wait, what’s this on “Sources: White House Cut Testimony.” Ah, I see. Testimony discussing the potential health problems caused by global warming would have to acknowledge that global warming exists. Thus, the White House needed to edit the hell out of it to make sure none of those pesky scientific warnings get in there. This isn’t the first time the Administration has pulled this little trick, they’ve apparently been censoring NASA reviews of climate change for years now.

Now, part of this is just the standard Bush Administration secrecy fetish. But it’s also about the fight to discredit science in general. Science, you see, has this pesky habit of pointing out awkward things like cigarettes causing cancer, pesticides harming wildlife and humans, and fossil fuels warming the earth. Also, things like this little guy:


And when the public becomes aware of these things, they tend to demand government action, which tends to be expensive for big business. So, what’s an enterprising corporation that wants to keep burning coal or dumping toxic waste to do?

They take advantage of the basic nature of scientific inquiry: namely, that nothing in science is ever proven, only not disproven. Doubt is central to the discipline; without it, there’d be no discovery. Thus, for just about any well-established theory, there’s some scientist who doesn’t fully agree with the consensus. So, all a company has to do is find that person and give him or her a big ol’ megaphone. Poof, you’ve got an instant scientific controversy where none existed before. And when you’ve got a business-friendly administration willing to suppress scientific facts which run counter to their ideology, it becomes all the easier.