Judging books by their covers

On “Corruption in textbook-adoption proceedings: ‘Judging Books by Their Covers‘”:

In 1964 the eminent physicist Richard Feynman served on the State of California’s Curriculum Commission and saw how the Commission chose math textbooks for use in California’s public schools. In his acerbic memoir of that experience, titled “Judging Books by Their Covers,” Feynman analyzed the Commission’s idiotic method of evaluating books, and he described some of the tactics employed by schoolbook salesmen who wanted the Commission to adopt their shoddy products. “Judging Books by Their Covers” appeared as a chapter in “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” — Feynman’s autobiographical book that was published in 1985 by W.W. Norton & Company.

The perils of averaging (or poorly selected crowd-sourcing), biased presentations, and careless writing and reviewing.

Improving medical (and educational) research

On “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science“:

Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science.

The research funding and dissemination mechanisms need serious overhaul. I think the research enterprise also needs to institute more formal appreciation for methodologically sound replications, null results, and meta-analyses. If the goal of research is genuinely to improve the knowledge base, then its incentive structure should mirror that.

Ioannidis laid out a detailed mathematical proof that, assuming modest levels of researcher bias, typically imperfect research techniques, and the well-known tendency to focus on exciting rather than highly plausible theories, researchers will come up with wrong findings most of the time.

On the education side, we also need to help the general populace become more critical in its acceptance of news stories without tipping them over to the other extreme of distrusting all research. More statistics education, please! We need a more skeptical audience to help stop the news media from overplaying stories about slight or random effects.

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