[ExI] New Yorker article: The Truth Wears Off

natasha at natasha.cc natasha at natasha.cc
Wed Dec 8 23:27:15 UTC 2010

Thanks for posting this.


Quoting Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com>:

> anyone have access to the full text?
> Jonah Lehrer, Annals of Science, ?The Truth Wears Off,? The New Yorker,
> December 13, 2010, p. 52
> Read the full text of this article in the digital edition.
> (Subscription required.)
> December 13, 2010 Issue
> ABSTRACT: ANNALS OF SCIENCE about the decline effect. On September 18,
> 2007, a few dozen neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and drug-company
> executives gathered in a hotel conference room in Brussels to hear some
> startling news. It had to do with a class of drugs known as atypical or
> second-generation antipsychotics, which came on the market in the early
> nineties. The therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to be steadily
> falling. A recent study showed an effect that was less than half of
> that documented in the first trials, in the early nineties. Before the
> effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested again and
> again. The test of replicability, as it?s known, is the foundation of
> modern research. It?s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. But
> now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have
> started to look increasingly uncertain. It?s as if our facts are losing
> their truth. This phenomenon doesn?t yet have an official name, but
> it?s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to
> ecology. When Jonathan Schooler was a graduate student at the
> University of Washington, he discovered a surprising phenomenon having
> to do with language and memory that he called verbal overshadowing.
> While Schooler was publishing his results in journals, he noticed that
> it was proving difficult to replicate his earlier findings. Mentions
> psychologist Joseph Banks Rhine, who conducted several experiments
> dealing with E.S.P. In 2004, Schooler embarked on an imitation of
> Rhine?s research in an attempt to test the decline effect. The most
> likely explanation for the decline is an obvious one: regression to the
> mean. Yet the effect?s ubiquity seems to violate the laws of
> statistics. Describes Anders Møller?s discovery of the theory of
> fluctuating asymmetry in sexual selection. Mentions Leigh Simmons and
> Theodore Sterling. Biologist Michael Jennions argues that the decline
> effect is largely a product of publication bias. Biologist Richard
> Palmer suspects that an equally significant issue is the selective
> reporting of results?that is, the subtle omissions and unconscious
> misperceptions, as researchers struggle to make sense of their results.
> Mentions John Ioannidis. In the late nineteen-nineties, neuroscientist
> John Crabbe investigated the impact of unknown chance events on the
> test of replicability. The disturbing implication of his study is that
> a lot of extraordinary scientific data is nothing but noise. This
> suggests that the decline effect is actually a decline of illusion.
> Many scientific theories continue to be considered true even after
> failing numerous experimental tests. The decline effect is troubling
> because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything.
> Read more
> http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer#ixzz17Yvyi1Kl
> --
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