Science does not rely on authority as an indicator of truth.

Ben Goldacre: Battling bad science

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It is worth reiterating that contrary to popular depictions of science, science does not rely on authority as an indicator of truth.

The video reminds me of an xkcd comic showing the problem with using statistical significance if the studies showing no effect are unreported.

In this analogy, the study showing a link between green jelly beans and acne has only a 5% probability (or less) of being a coincidence (p < 0.05). This would be convincing evidence that there is a link between green jelly beans and acne, except all the 19 studies showing no link between non-green jelly beans and acne were unreported and discarded. If all the study results were reported, then it would suggest that the result of the green-jelly-bean study is indeed a coincidence: 1/20 = 5%.

Scientific studies in real life can be even worse. Companies, and even university researchers, are not obligated to publish studies in which the results show no effect (studies with “null results”). This means that researchers can run the hypothetical green-jelly-bean study 20 times until they get the result that they want, by coincidence. What normally happens does not involve ill intent, but has the same effect. The hypothetical green-jelly-bean study is run independently by 20 different research teams (who can be separated by time), who are unaware of each other, because studies with negative results are not published. Only the group with the positive result publishes its results, but the result is actually a coincidence. See the concept of publication bias at Wikipedia.
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Where in Asia should they build an xkcd school?

A portion of the profits from xkcd: volume 0 will be donated to three literacy projects in Asia: building a School Room (pre-school); building a Reading Room (library); and funding a Local Language Publishing Program. The charity Room to Read is now polling the public to decide where in Asia these three projects should take place.

The School Room (pre-school) will be built in Sri Lanka, but the four regions to decide between are: Nuwara Eliya, Moneragala District, Mannar District, and Matale District.

The Reading Room will be built in either Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, or Nepal.

The Local Language Publishing Program will in either Laos, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, or Cambodia.

How do you decide which locations to vote for? Are you connected to any of these regions?

The deadline is May 17th, 2010 at noon EST. Vote here: How Should We Donate $53,000 of xkcd Book Profits?

Diversity in color names is not caused by innate sex differences.

Randall Munroe of xkcd fame conducted a web survey on color perception, and here are the results on (chromosomal) sex differences (although the correct labels should be “Actual color names if you do not have a Y chromosome” versus “Actual color names if you have a Y chromosome”):

Actual color names if you're a girl ... Actual color names if you're a guy ...

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Dear Male Geeks: A woman is not a Rubik’s cube that turns into a fleshlight when you win.

Nerd Assertiveness and Blindness To Privilege (guest post) by Matt Kopas at Sociological Images (emphasis mine):

Today’s XKCD strip bothers me, a little. It reminds me of the discussion about assertiveness amongst nerd guys brought up when Gabe and Tycho at Penny Arcade were talking about “pick-up artists” (PUAs) a while back.

[…] But I also think that messages like the XKCD strip really reinforce that idea of isolation and make the world out to be filled with potential mates — if only you’d just talk to them! There’s some truth here, in that it’s pretty hard to meet people if you find it hard to talk to communicate with others. But the more insidious, unintended message I’m seeing is one that just feeds into the PUA logic — given enough confidence and skills, all women are yours for the taking.

myoxisbroken of the XKCD forum said it best:

Because so goddamn many of you [nerd-men] believe, for whatever reason, that interacting with women is like solving a Rubik’s cube that turns into a Fleshlight when you win.

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“Black or white”, “East or West” are not racially or culturally exhaustive.

Black (#000000) and white (#FFFFFF) are opposite colours, because they have opposite RGB values. As these colour names have been used as labels for racial categories, sometimes Americans make the mistake of thinking that black people and white people are opposite races, or that “black or white” is a racially inclusive term.

Although the United States’ history of slavery may be the origin of the false black-or-white racial dichotomy, the mapping of these racial labels on to colour analogues reinforces the notion that “black or white” is racially exhaustive.

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Nice Guy (TM) at XKCD

Nice Guy™ at XKCD:


This XKCD comic is titled “Friends”.

Sadly—but unsurprisingly—many (heterosexual) male geeks at the “Friends” XKCD comic discussion thread see nothing wrong with being a Nice Guy™.

(Basically, a Nice Guy™ (not to be confused with a nice guy) is a guy who is “nice” to a woman for sex. When this does not work, he concludes that women want “jerks”.)

Related links: