Monthly Archives: June 2012

Why scientists seem to change their minds (3)
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Reason 3: They lied (or at least stretched the truth!) Let’s be completely honest. Scientists are human beings and human beings lie. There are numerous cases where the results that scientists report are in fact fabricated. Some of these cases are high profile — such as the fraud committed by Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk. In addition to blatant fraud, there are also plenty of cases where scientists unconsciously inflate effects because they believe that they exist. There is a detailed (and sometimes quite amusing) record of scientific results which have been retracted for various reasons online.

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Why scientists seem to change their minds (2)
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Reason 2: They didn’t ask the right questions A scientific experiment gives you the answer to a specific question (e.g. does this intervention achieve the specified outcome better than a specified control in specified conditions). As mentioned in the previous post, this does not tell you if the intervention works in other conditions. However, there are also many other important questions that this research does not answer — for example, is the intervention acceptable to the community?; Is the outcome desirable?; Is the intervention safe?; Is it cost effective?; etc. Sometimes subsequent research asks a different question and the answer means that the policy decision based on the initial research is reversed. For example, research might demonstrate that treating a certain crop with a certain fertiliser increases yield. However, some years later further research may indicate that the fertiliser is damaging to the local environment and thus the fertiliser is withdrawn. This does … Continue reading

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Why scientists seem to change their minds (1)
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Approximately once a year, I get into an argument with my father about the reliability of scientific evidence. My dad likes to tell me that scientists are always getting it wrong and, therefore, scientific knowledge should not be put on a pedestal above other forms of knowledge. It can certainly seem that scientists are constantly backtracking but I would argue that this is more to do with the imperfect humans (whose values and beliefs influence how they do research and how they interpret scientific findings) rather flaw in the scientific method per se.

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Is brain drain relevant in an increasingly globalised world?
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Brain drain is a very emotive issue. Even the word ‘’drain’’ conveys a certain sense of siphoning off resources from A to B without any rewards to the donor. Anecdotal reports suggest that Europe and America are full of highly skilled immigrants from developing countries driving taxis and doing the jobs that the locals do not want to do. The anecdotal evidence also tends to suggest that the vast majority of these immigrants are doctors, scientists, teachers or engineers. The fact remains that there is very little actual evidence for this assertion. A recent paper from the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CREAM) authored by John Gibson and David McKenzie tries to look at the evidence for some of these stereotypes and challenges some of the common presumptions.

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Is well communicated research-evidence the panacea to evidence-informed policy making?
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“How do I make my research relevant to policy?” I believe this should be an imperative question for any empirical (perhaps, also theoretical) researcher. Some researchers/scientists won’t probably agree with me, fearing that my statement implies some sort of pollution brought by the cynic political logic into the pure and linear research process. However, as a professional interested in evidence informed policy making (EIPM) and a social scientist, I believe that research and politics can find a common ground in their higher conceptions – respectively intended as a social mission and art of mediation between different interests resulting in the best possible solution for the society.

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How do you measure development?
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What does it mean when a country is classed as ‘developed’? It’s certainly not a finite state. For the World Bank a ‘developed’ country is one with a high Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. They then classify countries according to their income level. But this doesn’t tell the whole story – it doesn’t give you the distribution of wealth across a population (like the GINI index or coefficient attempts to do), it just gives a straight average of national income divided by population.

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