Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Biologist defends de-publishing papers

Computational biology professor Lior Pachter writes:
In the case discussed in this blog post, the underlying subtext is pervasive sexism and misogyny in the mathematics profession, and if this sham paper on the variance hypothesis had gotten the stamp of approval of a journal as respected as NYJM, real harm to women in mathematics and women who in the future may have chosen to study mathematics could have been done. It’s no different than the case of Andrew Wakefield‘s paper in The Lancet implying a link between vaccinations and autism. By the time of the retraction (twelve years after publication of the article, in 2010), the paper had significantly damaged public health, and even today its effects, namely death as a result of reduced vaccination, continue to be felt.
He and his liberal colleagues have a funny idea of what science is all about.

Wakefield's paper did not damage public health. It merely suggested a health concern, based on some very limited data. The proper response would have been to do a more thorough study on measles vaccine safety.

Instead the medical authorities blamed Wakefield for reduced confidence in vaccination, so they retracted the paper and stripped Wakefield of his medical license.

Those who suspected a cover-up of vaccine risks had their suspicions confirmed. Nobody would every publish anything critical of vaccines again, or risk losing his medical license.

Pachter points out that papers on the evolution of sex differences go back to 1895, at least. So how is it that publishing another one will do real harm to women in mathematics? Pachter doesn't actually explain what is wrong with the paper, except that it is politically incorrect and fails to cite some previous work on the subject.

I do not get confidence in vaccines by having a ban on papers describing vaccine dangers. And I do not think that women should get encouragement in math by banning papers on variance in mathematical ability.

1 comment:

  1. You can make any dictator blush by appealing to the 'public health' to justify tyranny.