Neurontic's New Home

I'm thrilled to announce that Neurontic is now part of Seed Magazine's Science Blogs.

The new site is live, so please go check it out when you have some time: http://scienceblogs.com/neurontic/.

Eventually this link will redirect. But -- as many of you already know -- computers are not my forte. Your patience during the move is much appreciated.


Sunday's Non-Silly Science Roundup

My apologies for the delay in getting to the next Big Question. Be assured, I haven't forgotten--I've just been buried in final papers. In lieu of a real entry, I'm providing a roundup of "non-silly" science writing worth checking out:

First, Noam Chomsky -- Linguist-cum-Know-It-All -- has a brief essay on The Edge in which he declares that:
On the ordinary problems of human life, science tells us very little, and scientists as people are surely no guide. In fact they are often the worst guide, because they often tend to focus, laser-like, on their professional interests and know very little about the world.
You have to admire the man’s certitude. That said, I couldn’t disagree with him more. A brief perusal of Science Daily or New Scientist demonstrates that scientists have plenty to say about “ordinary problems.” The articles currently on display in Science Daily’s “Mind & Brain” section, for example, offer die-hard smokers advice on how to quit, warn hockey superfans that they may end up deaf, and caution those with inferiority complexes to steer clear of novel plot twists.

I can’t help wondering if Mr. Chomsky is making the mistake of equating all scientists with his hyper-theoretical MIT colleagues Steven Pinker and Marc Hauser. If so, I’d like to be the first to remind him that most scientists don’t occupy the nosebleed section of the Ivory Tower. Only a very select group has the luxury of trying to determine “how nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong,” or the time to rail against the “modern denial of human nature.” And I’d be willing to wager that they too see their work as an attempt to address issues that impact people’s daily lives.

In other news . . .

After an extended hiatus, Clive Thompson is back online at Collision Detection and has an interesting post on "why interactive websites can create false memories.”

Over at Gladwell.com, The New Yorker’s resident systemitizer is trying to outline the “hierarchy of hate speech” on the heels of Michael Richard’s outburst.

And speaking of Gladwell, those of you who enjoyed his take on mass hysteria in The Tipping Point may be interested to learn that there was a recent outbreak among English school children after a small number watched a video on “human biology.” Oddly, neither Mind Hacks nor the article it cites goes into any detail about what was in the video. Color me curious.


A Sour Note for Science Bloggers

A Blog Around The Clock recently posted an entry titled, “You Gotta Be Nuts to Vote for Bush!” Normally I’m a huge fan of The Clock, but this post left me feeling a little sick to my stomach. It describes the vague outlines of a study conducted by Christopher Lohse, a master’s candidate in social work at the “highly prestigious” Southern Connecticut State University. Louse claims to have found a “direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.” How? He surveyed . . .
69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse's study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person's psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.
All of this, mind you, was relayed in an article in The New Haven Advocate, because the specifics of Lohse’s project aren’t actually available to the public yet.

As Orac over at Respectful Insolence wisely said: “When I encounter a study that seems to confirm my biases, as a skeptic, I try very hard to be even more skeptical than usual, because I would hate to be caught trumpeting a weak or bogus study as evidence supporting a belief of mine.” One would assume that most bloggers share his qualms, which makes it all the more surprising that The Clock and several other left-leaning blogs, were so quick to latch on to Lohse’s “findings,” sans data.

Shame on them. As information gurgles to the surface about Lohse’s study, his results are beginning to seem more and more spurious. According to The New Haven Advocate article, Lohse didn’t even set out to measure political preferences in these patients. In fact, Jaak Rakfeldt, Louse’s thesis advisor, told the reporter that the project “was not intended to show what it did,” admitted that data “were mined after the fact,” and that he hadn’t even bothered to look at “Lohse's conclusions regarding Bush.” (No wonder Southern Connecticut State University has such a stellar reputation.) Beyond these obvious red flags, as Deep Thought noted in the comments section of The Clock, “There is a rather large difference between 'A small sample of psychotics split 60/40 for a particular candidate' and 'Conservatives are crazy and dangerous.'”

Considering how much ink has been spilled in scientific circles over the Bush Adminstration’s willingness to skew science to further its political agenda, I find it appalling that normally levelheaded bloggers got swept away in this quasi-scientific brand of conservative bashing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Little Green Footballs. But politics and science make strange bedfellows, and one must always proceed with extreme caution when mixing the two.