I used to work in microscopy image analysis and the papers often would obfuscate the fact that they were not exactly doing anything new by using what looks like fancy math and some trendy names.
One of the most outrageous examples is this "high profile" paper that says it does compressive sensing with superresolution microscopy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477591/ except I don't think they do; the math when you remove the bullshit sounds more like deconvolution than anything else (and the results are only as good). Yet, it got reviewed and accepted by Nature Methods, and is cited by 360 papers already. Why? Apparently no one in this field knows what compressive sensing really means. At least one professor in the field when I confronted him, just said he doesn't have time to go through compressive sensing literature first before evaluating this paper.
What's the root cause? Frankly I'd argue the majority of professors nowadays aren't smart in innovation but smart in hustling. Because hustlers are who become professors in today's academic climate. They are able to publish good papers still if the field isn't mature, but if the field is saturated, you have to be really smart to make meaningful progress, and these hustlers are not. So they just try to find some way to wrap meaningless progress in fancy math and shove it in papers. The papers also go to reviewers who are similar hustlers (not every paper can be reviewed by Hinton ) so they either don't notice the problem or they do but let it slide because it's just their colleague (yay for journals asking for "suggested reviewers" to the authors itself).
On another internship I worked for a researcher who bragged about having published almost 10 papers on one of his algorithmic discoveries without ever revealing totally (which allowed him to start a for-profit company with it)
You know, the whole publication + review + reproduction thing really helped science become a more solid process, but we need something more elaborate now. Probably some kind of reputation system that would not just be the number of citations by friends and colleagues.
No, we don’t. Increasing demands for rigour in pre-publication peer review are why publication times from submission sociology and economics reach and exceed two years and why papers which start off thirty pages long end up with eighty, after adding robustness checks and citing every tangentially relevant paper in the literature. We know that post publication peer review works perfectly well because it was the norm until after WWII with the rise of state funding of big science and the accompanying ass covering and form filling proceduralism that made it popular.
As always only replication counts, whether that’s checking that an experiment has the results claimed or that an argument follows from its premises.
We certainly don’t need to lean on reputation more. Science isn’t law; arguments from authority aren’t valid.
I felt it personally in grad school. If you objectively observe the work of yourself and your peers in such an environment, you may notice that there's a reason that none of you got into the Ivy Leagues.
The publication+review+reproduction process is fine to discover scientific fact, I totally agree.
You know if there's anything written about the history of the modern scientific process, specifically on the rise of state funding of science? I'm particularly interested in when academics started to be essentially required to bring in external funding. I've only read offhand remarks like this and don't feel I have the full story.
> As always only replication counts
It's too bad replication studies have such a hard time getting funded.
The idea is that you post your paper on some common repository like arxiv. The "reviewer entity" or RE which is self-organized group with interest in sub-field can be invited to review it. The RE accepts or rejects it. Citations graph propogates to RE as reputation score.
The problem with his proposal:
1. Authors are not anonymous which can bias prestigious REs to avoid papers from unknown authors.
2. Everything still depends on citations, most of which are usually worthless as people mostly cite to fill obligatory related sections, not because they are actually using your work.
3. No obligation for REs to review anything. Doing reviews is tiresome and busy people may just avoid it unless there is a clear obligation/honor system involved.
4. Prestigious REs will be invited to review by everyone, causing highly uneven distribution for the workload.
I believe openreview system was started based on LeCun's thoughts but needless to say we haven't found a good system that can resolve above issues. More importantly, any change in system needs to come from community leaders who are part of organizing commitees for conferences or website developers like arxiv and Google Scholars. Unfortunately, last two have been virtual stasis for long time.
It's astonishing how little investment exists for our main engines of progress that is scientific progress. Compare number of developers working on arxiv or Google Scholar vs Twitter!
I think the model is still good. The examples you stated really do fail at the reproduction part. I think one of the difficulties here is that reproduction is difficult and costly, and there is no one willing to pay for it. A common metric for a paper is "can a smart PhD student replicate the experiment from the contents of the paper?" How many advisors ask their students to replicate a paper? How many students can?
Interesting, to say the least, though I can't say I have time to read all 150 pages at this very moment.
Specifically "Using compressed sensing, we analyzed a simulated image with 100 molecules randomly distributed in a 4 µm × 4 µm region (Fig. 1a). Although the images of individual molecules completely overlapped, we could identify almost all of the molecules. "
Unless that is a close enough approximation to a random projection? I'm not that familiar with STORM.
I do think there is a problem that our breadth of knowledge, as humans, is far larger than what one person can understand. There's famous examples of revolutions in science being claimed as mundane results. Topologists said Nash was just applying topology to economics and it was nothing new (to them). Mathematicians saw Einstein's results as unsurprising because of the tensor analysis. (Some of these are over exaggerated and there's definitely a post hoc superiority complex in play). But if we just take this at face value, is any of this bad? I would argue no, because it still takes someone to connect the dots between fields and push studies to think in those ways.
But one thing is for sure, as we gain more knowledge it is more likely that someone else independently discovers something that was already discovered. It is also more likely that some of these are rediscoveries of ideas that were not useful at the time.
I think there is a way to solve this though, but I'm not sure we can (yet). We need some good way to check research in a cross-disciplinary manner. Not only that, but in a highly technical way.
Regarding "undermining" novel innovation, you're right for sure. In this example, however, it's not undermining, I'm alleging they're not even doing compressive sensing, and that a competent unbiased reviewer would have caught it.
Sorry then, I read "hustling" as with intent. It definitely has negative connotation. Since it many times is seen as an act of fraud. Though strictly by definition this could be over zealousness and not malice, but it definitely has that connotation in vernacular use.
From what I saw in academia, it definitely was partial hustling. The thing is that it became so prevalent in some disciplines that the new generation now views this as "research" and not hustling.
Academics are no less immune to social proof. For them, academics is what academics do. And if most of them do this, then this is academics. The notion that it is problematic is waved away.
Do you have any references for these examples?
I did try to give a bunch of side notes to downplay and justify it in ways that may be conceited, but also reasonably human. I don't know if these stories I heard were a single person (I'd be surprised if there weren't at least one person!) or a larger group. I wouldn't be surprised if a ridiculous voice got amplified (can't think of any times that happened in modern times.....)
But the reality is the present incentive system in the "sciences" is such that bullshit, hustling, trend following, sucking up to the associate dean, marketing chops and chasing fashion (to say nothing of politics and witch hunts) are rewarded, and honest diligent research isn't. This is one of the reasons actual breakthroughs (such as deep learning) are incredibly rare in the modern day, compared to, say, the way stuff worked in the 50s.
I'd argue that the more we learn the harder it is to find major breakthroughs. Looking at Math and Physics as a model, I think this is clear, that major breakthroughs become more sparse as time passes. Luckily we have more eyes looking at things now, which helps a lot.
Similarly in technology, there is much to do, but tinkering with hardware, craftsmanship; the things that worked in industrial labs in the old days: they're not done any more. Even making some simple piece of junk aluminum part, people waste time fooling around with solid designer and FEA instead of just handing a piece of graph paper to a former Navy machinist. There are entire books written in the post WW-2 era about fast development when people actually used to develop things quickly. Nobody does it. Well, the Russians and Chinese do, but they also develop big technology a lot faster than we do in the west.
I have no idea what's wrong with machine learning research; probably gratuitous abuse of grad students, people jumping after fashion, and lately brain drain.
EDIT: I also don't buy the dominance of stupidity for another reason: if you're being stupid, you'll make mistakes. But you can't obfuscate and bullshit without intent to do so.
I think we'd agree that there are a large amount of people that do not do great things, momentarily or as a way of being. But how many people see themselves as bad? Very few. You can find tons of psych studies on this. Where people doing evil things justify it for many different reasons. "Just this one time", "for the greater good", "I have no other choice", "because _they_ are cheating", "the system is rigged against me", "fight fire with fire", etc. We all know these things. We've done them ourselves (to some extent or another).
I think a good example is politics. I think a lot of westerners like democracy (vague term). But how many imagine that if we were dictator for a day how we could just fix everything? Besides being naive and overestimating our intellectual prowess, it goes against the fundamental idea of a democracy. I'd argue that a lot of authoritarians see themselves in this way (there's good evidence to support this). That it is for the greater good. I'm sure you can think of at least two examples today that think that they have to control their countries because the people they rule over are not smart/civilized enough to know what is best for themselves.
Is this malice? I think that depends on the perspective. And that's really what Hanlon's Razor is about, perspective. Understanding the mind of the actor.
Relevant XKCD "Fields of Purity" - https://www.xkcd.com/435/
There is also a browser plugin for pubpeer and a zotero plugin for retraction watch database:
(For the record: I have posted a comment on PubPeer myself so I'm not a hypocrite.)
I think most researchers are somewhat innocent in the sense that they produce bad research without knowing it's bad. Many of these folks seem apathetic to the quality of research, as you found in the professor who said they don't have time to go through the literature. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't have time to go through the literature (at a reasonable level, i.e., more than is typical now), you don't have time to do research at all.
That is common practice at a journal like Nature when there are a limited number of investigators in the field with the reputation and experience "necessary" to evaluate the work.
Of course the chosen panel of reviewers is supposed to remain anonymous.
How would you improve the system?
If only! My professors were quite adept at figuring out who the reviewers were, especially if they're someone from their "cabal", because every investigator has their own grammar and language style and whether professors are good at science or not, they are most definitely really good at English (gotta write those grants perfect!).
Typical practice nowadays, is that these journals would choose two reviewers from the suggested list, and get one other by themselves just to try to be unbiased. Hence, the fate of the paper would reside on that single reviewer (my experience has been that the "suggested" reviewers will never reject the paper unless it's absolute shit).
Perhaps the journals should check the citation history between the suggested reviewer and the author to make sure they are not mutually citing each other and stroking their backs.
Isn't it in your job description, and what your performance is assessed against?
When you're graded against whatever metric your institution uses they will decide whether or not to pile on more undergraduate teaching and administrative responsibilities (basically seen as the shit jobs) which in turn reduces your time available to research. That is problematic in and of itself as developing successful undergraduate systems requires people who know the field well and can teach relevant materials born from practice. What you end up seeing is young researchers who go into Lecturer positions end up deciding the next 30 years of their life on the first evaluation rather than being invested in as researchers who could contribute to their own projects or to teams. To compound the issue university administration has exploded in the last 10-20 years creating more middle management, more cost and more downward pressure on researchers to adhere to the demands of people less qualified than themselves. The same administrators are also the ones calling for mass casualisation of teaching roles to save money without seeing the long term downsides this has for building institutional knowledge and departments which can generate high quality research. Luckily I am in an institute that mandates at least 1 day per week is a research day and you are allowed to work from home and be uncontactable on that day if you wish but other people have it so much worse.
To their credit, the authors actually own-up to doing this themselves in various papers. It seems like a way to describe the situation is that neural nets have become such computational monsters that talking about them exactly becomes very difficult with the language opaque and ambiguous.
We'll have to see where this all leads, to ver the next few years/decades. Maybe someone will manage to combine "a proper fundamental understanding of trained neural networks," and good results. That'll lead to (perhaps) good theories, to explain the good results.
If "good results" continue to outpace our understanding of wtf the useful NN is up to... It'll have to be studied expirementaly, like the way we study biology.
Ie, we might see CS theory adapt from "mathematical," to "scientific" to in its methods and theories.
The current trajectory seems to be heading here. There is tremendous interest and resources in NNs. As they become more commercially important, interest and resources dedicated to developing them increases. They only need the NNs to work, not to be scriptable.
Scientists are not just going to give up though. They'll study NNs expirementaly as black boxes if that's all they have.
What the paper describes is those research papers which aim at, that, giving a fundamental understanding of a trained neural network. That the papers are satisfied with "it works" stands in the way of anyone having this fundamental understanding.
The only thing that’s really new is the amount of computational power at our hands. That has allowed us to shift from relatively simpler methods to more powerful but opaque methods like NNs. They just don’t lend themselves to easy analysis because it’s a lot harder to explain why inputs to these ML systems map to their respective outputs. Hence, attempts at drawing the connection between inputs and outputs become more speculative.