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Sunday, 18 November 2007

Crap Science

A few years ago, I decided that as a failed semi-professional musician, the next step for me to take was to embark on a course of education. After a year of distance learning at Athabasca, Canada's Distance Learning University, during which I completed one semester's worth of courses in basic Anthrolpolgy, we were making preparations to leave Canada, so I abandoned the concept of enrolement in a recognized establishment and went freelance. Naturally after a whole successful year studying anthropolgy my choice of study area had to be "Why, and how, does civilization exist? and what is the future of the Human Race?". Once I had mastered this subject, my plan went, then I could probably focus on a career/vocational related topic and get a better job.

The plan is going pretty well, even if I say so myself, and having read several books on the subject of civilization and stuff, I'm pretty sure that although I have not yet obtained a definitive answer, it is just because I have'nt used the right words while searching So my education continues at least for the next few months, although I'm confident of having the whole civiization issue wrapped up before we get a new roof on the mansion we've recently bought.

There is a minor problem though, because while one of the best things about embarking on a self-guided course of education has been the freedom to be completely unguided by informed people directing me towards reliable, worthwhile and well researched opinions and publications, there is also a whole bunch of crap out there.

One of the first 'papers' which aroused my suspicions that not everything on the Internet was totally relaible was The Olduvai Theory by Richard C. Duncan, PhD. At first glance, this work, for want of a better word, looked genuine. The author is a PhD - good. It is called a 'paper' - good. The word "theory" is mentioned several times - excellent. It is dated - very good and there is an institute name on the title - all very scientific. The paper namechecks a significant anthropological site (Olduvai gorge, Kenya) - this all looked very professional. The subject matter is important - The decline of Civilization due to resource Usage.

I tucked into the paper on the delayed Transpennine 7.33 and admittedly, (I blame the earlyness) missed the hint in the first paragraph that the 'paper' might need some work. It was only after cross-referencing the Olduvai Theory with some of Nel's scientific papers did I realize that she infrequently (if ever) uses the word "horridly" in the first paragraph, nor does she conclude that vital first paragraph with "I have no data to support this claim".

Furthermore, Nel, in my experience usually eschews personal details from her papers such as "It was because I was grouting the bathroom tiles that I did'nt analyse my data for simply ages". Mr Duncan is not as reticent, as he explains in paragraph 3 of section 2 why the Theory took a bit of time to develop "So for the next decade I went about my way: raising kids, building airplanes and teaching engineers."

For me, it was only when Mr Duncan used the phrase "willy-nilly" (Section 5, Paragraph 1, just past Selby), in his scientific document that I began to realize that this publication may be somewhat less than peer-reviewed.


JoeyMac said...

Note to self. Remove 'Willy Nilly' from next CHI submission...

JoeyMac said...

Ahh, I almost missed that hidden line. Bought a house? Congrats! when do you close? and more important, when do we get to see it? :)