Hype In Science

Network Node: 
Sat., Dec. 7, 2013, 8:30am - , 5:00pm

Hype in Science
How can respectable journals publish such c**p?
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Alumni Hall, New Academic Building, University of King’s College
6350 Coburg Rd, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Video and Podcasts now up!

Free. Open to the public. Drop-ins welcome.

We invite you to a free all-day public series of discussions exploring six case studies of overselling, misrepresentation or biasing in the presentation of scientific research. This event is presented by the Situating Science Strategic Knowledge Cluster with Genome Atlantic, Mount Saint Vincent University’s Science Communication Program and the Dalhousie University Centre for Comparative Genomics and Evolutionary Bioinformatics (CGEB).

Just recently, a special issue of the premier journal Science focused on “pressure and predators” in the communication of scientific results. A similar exposé appeared in The Economist. The peer review system, which is supposed to make science uniquely trustworthy, is collapsing under it own weight. Rogue journals and dubious scientific conferences blur the boundaries between respectable and sensational. The reluctance of researchers to submit – and of journals to publish – negative results or serious disciplinary critiques fosters a falsely progressive view in many disciplines. Papers presented as “breakthroughs” in areas deemed to be of “wide general interest” get top priority,
are picked up by the popular press and find popular acceptance or notoriety in so far as they complement or conflict with the agendas of special interests. It is good that science engages the public, but some of the most publicity-attracting breakthroughs reported in the last few years by top journals such as Science, Nature or the Proceedings of the National Academy have turned out to be
over-hyped, misrepresented or false. No institution or publication seems to be immune.


8:35am: "The “Arseniclife” Debacle."
Rosie Redfield, Zoology, UBC.
Almost everyone got very excited when Science published NASA-supported research claiming that some bacteria can build their DNA with arsenic instead of phosphorus. But, in rapid ‘post-publication peer review’ on blogs and Twitter, chemists pointed out that such arsenic bonds were very unstable, and microbiologists decried the contaminated reagents and shoddy methodology. Redfield led the initial critique and refuted the conclusions in a series of experiments that she posted on her open-research blog and published in a follow-up Science article. Redfield has long been one of her own field’s most thoughtful critics; her own research addresses the contentious question of whether bacteria have sex.

9:30am: "Is “junk” bunk”? Panadaptationism and Functional Genomics."
Ford Doolittle, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie.
The claim by ENCODE researchers that 80% of the human genome is functional and that the notion of “junk DNA” is thus debunked is based in ignorance of traditional definitions of biological function and of much comparative genomic literature. Funding pressure and the hunger of journals for paradigm-shifting breakthroughs, however misleadingly represented, might be held responsible.

10:25 am: Coffee break

10:50 am: "Conflating Correlation and Causation in Microbiomics."
Eva Boon, Biology, Dalhousie. 
The idea that we and the microbes on and in us have co-evolved, and that much disease originates not with discrete pathogenic species but as a more general “dysbiosis”, informs the literature and motivates the funding of this new field. Pressure to see a dysbiotic microbiome as cause rather than
consequence of disease is hard to resist. How to delineate and defend this distinction in microbiomics?

11:45 am: Lunch
(all participants – speakers and audience -- are encouraged to eat together in Prince Hall at U. King's College)

1:15 pm: "Epigenetics  and the New Lysenkoism."
Florian Maderspacher, Elsevier, Senior Editor, Current Biology
Much is at stake in the current excitement over epigenetics as the means by which nature might trump nurture. Politically, the left roots for the latter and the right for the former. This divide and the need for news media to frame scientific results in larger contexts make it very hard to get a
balanced picture of the importance and meaning of epigenetic mechanisms.

2:10 pm: "Liberation Therapy"
T. Jock Murray, Medical Humanities, Dalhousie.
The much hyped but controversial "Liberation Therapy" of CCSVI for multiple sclerosis is at
the heart of a "perfect storm" of pressures and exemplifies major conflict between
scientific evidence, media concentration on anecdote, and public belief that is unaffected by evidence.

3:05 pm: Coffee break

3:25 pm: "Race and IQ in the Postgenomic Age."
Sarah Richardson, History of Science and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard.
Claims about recent positive selection in brain- and behavior-related traits unique to different
racial and ethnic groups are proliferating. Current structures in postgenomic bioscientific research are roadblocks to transformative scientific conversations about community standards for evolutionary cognitive genetics and its overlapping fields. Displacing the traditional notion of scientific communities as static, bounded and autonomous, the postgenomic biosciences are defined by their speed, transdisciplinarity and commercial context. We must ask: What is “the research community”? Who is an “expert”? And, how is the labor of substantive conceptual and methodological debate rewarded? Beginning with Bruce Lahn’s 2005 Science paper on microcephaly gene variants and racial
differences in IQ, Richardson looks at the limitations of scientific peer review to handle the difficult methodological issues alongside the potentially explosive ethical and political dimensions of evolutionary genomic research.

4:20 pm: Round table: What More Can We Do? (all speakers and audience)

For more information contact ford@dal.ca
- - - - - - - - -
7:30 pm Dinner for speakers (and accompanying partners) and organizers.