Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

"have been to week-long conferences where every single paper was either a crazy theory or a negative experimental result"

That sounds incredibly fun. The crazier and zanier the better. Were there awards for 'Most likely to actually be random words', those are my favorites.

Also, I just started in neuroscience from an EE/Physics background. You would be AMAZED at what gets published. The rigor of physics is just.... incomprehensible in bio. Granted, yes, the experiments are 'squishy' and hard to quantify. You run a gel, and you get signal or not, counting it hard enough as is, let alone trying to measure anything. Still, the papers we read.... It's like they tried to do math, but gave up halfway through. I've seen papers where they start out with 2 decimal accuracy and errorbars in Figure 1, drop the errors completely in figure 2, and then just go to counting by 10s in Figure 4. Somehow, they derive significant results that journals will publish with only 20 cells or something. Mind you, nowhere do they quote the temperature, the pressure, what their saline solution actually is, how many failure experiments they ran, etc. The physicist in me is just ... pain. And oh god, the egos. Papers will have just one author on them, the PI, and when you look at the webpage, 20 faces show up for the postdocs alone in that lab. I have no idea where they get these fools, but they seem to be in large supply.

Feynman had a lecture (please help, I can't find the link) about what it takes to get a rat to not smell food behind a door. Turns out, it's a lot of work. I've been in smell labs that just plain ignore the research, even when they know it's there. "It's too much work and funding, besides, the data should suss out the real mechanisms." The McGill study earlier this year on pain in male rats being modulated by the sex of the experimenter? Yep, just plain ignored as well.

I'll share some links here on the issues in bio, it's a lot.



"All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on--with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the corridor, and still the rats could tell.

He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers that clues that the rat is really using-- not what you think it's using. And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running."

From: http://neurotheory.columbia.edu/~ken/cargo_cult.html

Thank you!

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact