Irreproducible Results

[The] problem of irreproducibility is tied to a bias in science toward positive results. This bias towards the positive operates on many levels in science, including a “publication bias” of only publishing positive results and discarding, if not dismissing, negative results. The bias toward positive results including setting up experiments to capture positive results, which means that of course more positive results will be found. Or to keep experimenting until one does get positive results.

Kevin Kelly — Irreproducible Results

Journalism should be reproducible

The idea came a month ago: “journalism should be reproducible.” After a conversation with Miles this weekend, I’d like to explore this further.

First point: Let’s approach journalism as the science for civic participation. Give journalism the goal to help us improve our standards of living, create a more just society, and so on. Make the goals measurable in various ways, and we can track our progress towards them.

Science, according to Wikipedia, “builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.” A report in a scientific journal has an abstract, methodology, presentation of the data, discussion and conclusion. News articles typically have the first and last. They’re missing two critical pieces: presentation of the data and the methodology used to collect the data. Reproducibility is a vital aspect of the scientific method (related: Jonah Lehrer has a fascinating article on this topic in the New Yorker). Continue reading “Journalism should be reproducible”

Sunset, Mazatlan

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A few days on the beach was exactly what I needed to finish up decompressing. In addition to a few long, hot, and dehydrating runs, I had the chance to get a bit of reading in. The best part is that it has significantly renewed my interests in science and engineering.

Steward Brand on the fear of genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms, from Whole Earth Discipline:

What “nature” are we talking about, exactly? You can’t do anything against nature, if your idea of nature includes physics, chemistry, and mechanics. Abominations can be imagined but cannot be performed. Anything you can do you can only do because nature allows it. Nuclear fission is so natural it occurs geogically. Horizontal gene flow is so natural it is the norm among microbes. Apparently what people mean when they say “against Nature” is “against my understanding of Darwinian inheritance and traditional breedline agriculture.” Or maybe it’s not so cosmic, and what people mean by “against Nature” is “something I’m not used to yet.”

We’ve always been engineering our agriculture, and microbes swap genes continuously. If we permit, encourage and respect engineered pharmaceuticals on the open market, why not nutritionally improved food?

Covering Science and Technology: So you want to be a tech writer?

David Wolman and Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk) led the conversation for the last panel this afternoon.

Informational interviews are a key part of finding stories, David says. He consumes a lot of coffee, talks with people about what they’re working on, and then also asks about what else they’re working on. That secondary information can lead to interesting pieces down the road.

Marshall has a detailed workflow for tracking down stories in the tech sector. He’s been working for ReadWriteWeb for the last year and a half, and is responsible for two to three posts a day. Most of the time, stories are “interrupt-driven” or dependent on the news of the day. The whole staff logs into a single Fever account to share RSS reading responsibilities.

One source of feeds is pretty ingenious. A research assistant dug up people who first linked popular web services such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. on Delicious. He did so for a number of startups over the last couple of years and put all of that information on a spreadsheet. Based on this aggregate information, he was able to identify 15 or so people who regularly link upcoming web services before anyone else. Subscribing to these Delicious accounts has multiple stories a week about hot new startups.

Most of the ReadWriteWeb writers use Tweetdeck for Twitter. Marshall has the 4,000+ people he’s following organized into different categories, including NY Times, analysts, augmented reality, etc. The team has a Skype chat they keep open 24 hours for coordinating on stories. They use hashtags within the conversation to enable people to find information of a specific type (i.e. which stories need editing with #edit).

For tracking reactions to pieces he’s written, Marshall searches for conversations based on a specific URL with Friendfeed, based on the ReadWriteWeb domain in Digg, and recently favorited tweets.

Libby Tucker notes that the differences between David and Marshall’s reporting styles. David flies to Urbana, Illinois to interview a scientist, whereas Marshall notes that if he has to put his pants on, it’s a big day.