Saturday, April 30, 2005

Number 2 Pencil: Some students are more equal than others

When Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech clash...

Number 2 Pencil: Some students are more equal than others: "Some students are more equal than others

I have to agree with Lee on this one - a school that wants to make sure that only certain student groups can wear political/sexual t-shirts is a school that is mightily confused about free speech:

A student-led effort to oppose homophobia at Homewood-Flossmoor High School may have backfired Tuesday when hundreds of students donned shirts with Christian and anti-gay slogans. Student activists who wore shirts emblazoned with the words 'gay? fine by me' said they were outnumbered by peers wearing hateful messages and were targeted for harassment...

Students estimated more than 100 students wore anti-homophobia shirts, and more than 200 students wore shirts that listed 'Crimes committed against God.' The crimes included the elimination of school prayer and separation of church and state, but did not include anything about homosexuality.

Other male students wrote slogans on white T-shirts such as 'I hate gay people' and 'Gay? Not fine by me (unless you're a lesbian)' and 'Gay? More chicks for me,' students said.

The school's reaction? Three guesses, and the first two don't count:

Students...claimed teachers were reprimanded for distributing shirts with Christian messages...The event's organizers got permission Tuesday from the student council to recognize the school's gay support group as a club. Club status will allow the group to hold the T-shirt day next year without opposition, Norby said.

Everyone at school needs a lesson on the First Amendment (as it applies to freedom of speech and freedom of religion). Then the school should decide whether to honor everyone's right to their opinion (on a t-shirt), or no one's.

Oh, and they need to assign Animal Farm as required reading, too."

Number 2 Pencil: I don't want to hear about it, thank you

Number 2 Pencil: I don't want to hear about it, thank you: "I don't want to hear about it, thank you

Another school confronts a free speech issue - or is it?

Two Winona High School students have found themselves in hot water with school officials. Why? Because after Carrie Rethlefsen attended a performance of the play 'The Vagina Monologues' last month, she and Emily Nixon wore buttons to school that read: 'I [heart] My Vagina.'

School leaders said that the pin is inappropriate and that the discomfort it causes trumps the girls' right to free speech. The girls disagree. And despite repeated threats of suspension and expulsion, Rethlefsen has continued to wear her button.

The girls claim the buttons provoke discussion about women's rights, and are perfectly happy that some boys plan to wear 'I Support Your Vagina' buttons, but let's be honest. There are going to be much more racy buttons appearing out there, and it'll be interesting to see how the school deals with this - obviously, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment, and schools can certainly ban pins/t-shirts that discuss body parts.

It'll also be interesting to see whether another situation like this will develop when buttons like, 'My Penis is Better Than Your Vagina' and 'Shut Up About Your Vagina,' inevitably emerge." Under whatever

Students at a Colorado middle school were startled when a guidance counselor led a slightly altered version of the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom.

"One nation, under 'your belief system.' "

It turns out that students and parents at Everitt Middle School in Jefferson County believe the pledge should be recited without modification. Under whatever: "April 22, 2005"

Power Failure - What Bush still doesn't understand about Iraq and North Korea. By Fred Kaplan

Power Failure
What Bush still doesn't understand about Iraq and North Korea.
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Friday, April 29, 2005, at 3:43 PM PT
Clueless or coy?

Two questions prompted by President Bush's press conference Thursday night: Does he believe what he said about Iraq and North Korea, or was he just yakking? And which prospect is more disturbing?

If the president believes what he said, he doesn't comprehend the nature of either crisis. If he doesn't believe it and was just reciting the usual grab bag of clich�s, what was his point? To deflect attention from an as-yet-undisclosed policy, or to obscure the lack of any policy at all?

On Iraq, a reporter at the press conference cited the recent comment by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the insurgency is as strong today as it was a year ago and asked why we weren't doing better. President Bush replied:

Power Failure - What Bush still doesn't understand about Iraq and North Korea. By Fred Kaplan

Great Balls of Matzo - It's me vs. 420-pound Eric "Badlands" Booker for the title of world matzo-ball-eating champion. By Emily Yoffe

What the heck are they doing?

Almost every Seder I've been to, I have complained of being cheated when my chicken soup comes with a single measly matzo ball floating in it. Now, my comeuppance was having to eat 25 fist-sized matzo balls in five minutes.

Great Balls of Matzo - It's me vs. 420-pound Eric "Badlands" Booker for the title of world matzo-ball-eating champion. By Emily Yoffe - Men who claimed to find buried treasure arrested - Apr 29, 2005

It pays to get your stories straight. - Men who claimed to find buried treasure arrested - Apr 29, 2005: "In addition, the men gave conflicting reasons for digging in Crebase's
yard. They told one reporter they were preparing to plant a tree. In
other reports, they said they were trying to remove a small tree or dig
up the roots of a shrub that was damaging the home's foundation." - Creating 'human-animals' for research - Apr 29, 2005

Ethical boundaries

Allegations about the proper treatment of lab animals may take on strange new meanings as scientists work their way up the evolutionary chart.

First, human stem cells were injected into bacteria, then mice and now sheep. Such research blurs biological divisions between species that couldn't until now be breached.

Drawing ethical boundaries that no research appears to have crossed yet, the National Academies recommend a prohibition on mixing human stem cells with embryos from monkeys and other primates.

But even that policy recommendation isn't tough enough for some researchers.

"The boundary is going to push further into larger animals," New York Medical College professor Stuart Newman said. "That's just asking for trouble." - Creating 'human-animals' for research - Apr 29, 2005

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Getting Through Customs

How much do you know about the customs of other countries? How much do you know about your own? An excellent link.

Getting Through Customs: "../2004Images/logo1.gif"

Exciting TEFL Opportunity! (

Now here is a new and exciting job possibility.

The Alice in Wonderland Coffee Shop, Amsterdam

Due to the departure of a difficult staff member, Amsterdam's unique Alice in Wonderland Coffee Shop is looking to fill the following position:-

Part-Time EFL Instructor/Bar Attendant

Come and join our international team of instructor-servers in our thematic interactive interior! Originally opened in 1972 by an American hippie-refugee, our coffee-shop sells the finest marijuana and hashish, and has been ranked as the #1 smoke shop by various US student travel guides.

Due to rising demand, in 1995 we began offering short-term English language study in tutorial settings to overseas students. We offer a 20-hour workload, plus free accommodation in our adjacent guesthouse.

Application requirements:-

* RSA Diploma (or CELTA will do)

A customer-friendly attitude

Must be a smoker

Theatrical training (but no prima-donnas)

Knowledge of various rock bands from 1965 to 1974

The job is suitable for all genders; male, female or mixed/doubtful. The job duties will include the following:-

Teaching English in tutorial settings, and designing ways to implicitly promote world knowledge of progressive rock music

The applicant must be willing (and able) to maintain the psychology and appearance of Alice 24/7; in the coffee shop, in the guest house, and in the street, as our teachers actively promote our products and services throughout the city.

Two days per month are designated 'Alice-free' days. As this is a challenging position, two people may share the job (but not the same person). However, both will be responsible for ensuring that Alice attire is worn at all times. Any violation of this rule will result in the immediate dismissal of both parties.

Short-listed applicants will be invited to Amsterdam to provide a teaching demonstration while under the influence of our famous 'SuperSkunk'. This is in order to test the applicant's endurance and suitability for the post.

The Alice in Wonderland Coffee Shop is a fun but challenging working environment. Even some of our most well-adjusted employees have lost their minds. We actively participate in Dr Kim Min Su's avant garde research into the effects of bong-smoking and language acquisition, via our integrated 'Ganja, Grammar and Giggles' course.

For more information about the above post, please contact our representative for international hiring, the visionary Dr Kim Min Su, at the address below.

Exciting TEFL Opportunity! ( "Exciting TEFL Opportunity!"

Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - Friends find treasure buried in backyard - Apr 27, 2005

I'm going to start digging right now. - Friends find treasure buried in backyard - Apr 27, 2005: "There, he and friend Barry Villcliff found a box stuffed with cash and
gold and silver certificates, some more than a century old." - 50 maggots removed from ear - Apr 27, 2005

Can you hear me now? - 50 maggots removed from ear - Apr 27, 2005: "Wednesday's Nation newspaper said Anan Temtan, who lives in the
tsunami-hit southern resort island of Phuket, had used cotton buds to
relieve the itching, but had scratched so hard his eardrums ruptured
and started bleeding."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

eBay item 5576349438 (Ends May-02-05 11:39:09 PDT) - PAN THAT MAY (or not) MAKE A GRILLED CHEESE VIRGIN MARY

You got to be kidding me!

eBay item 5576349438 (Ends May-02-05 11:39:09 PDT) - PAN THAT MAY (or not) MAKE A GRILLED CHEESE VIRGIN MARY: "This pan has the power to make anything you like appear if you look at whats in it for long enough!!!!

(Picture on pan is superimposed in photoshop to better illustrate what Charlton Heston looks like in a frying pan)

On Apr-26-05 at 01:39:11 PDT, seller added the following information:


eBay item 6526951008 (Ends Apr-30-05 18:00:00 PDT) - Huge Life Size X Wing XWING Star Wars Luke Skywalker

Who does not have an extra 85,000$.

eBay item 6526951008 (Ends Apr-30-05 18:00:00 PDT) - Huge Life Size X Wing XWING Star Wars Luke Skywalker: "

Official website Cabbages and Condoms

This place looks nice, but something about the name disturbs me.

Official website Cabbages and Condoms

Emails more damaging than cannabis -

Even more reasons not to check your email.

Emails more damaging than cannabis - "Those distracted by incoming email, phone calls and text messages saw a
10-point fall in their IQ, more than twice that found in studies of the
impact of smoking cannabis, according to the researchers."

Yahoo! News - Exploding toads baffle German experts

Anybody got this on video?

Yahoo! News - Exploding toads baffle German experts: "It is like 'a science fiction film', according to Werner Smolnik of a
nature protection society in the northern city of Hamburg, where the
phenomenon of the exploding toad has been observed."

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Agent Orange)

Yes, we are all so proud of our Uncle Sam.
Photograph shows a Vietnamese child affected by Agent Orange.

Warning: these photos are very disturbing.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Agent Orange): " Picture #2"

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (New Summer Trends)

This is body piercing gone too far. A new trend? Perhaps. But what happens when it becomes a religion? You get Thaipusam.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (New Summer Trends)

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Manar Maged )

Photographs show an infant girl with a second head. It is called raniopagus parasiticus, a very rare birth defect that develops when an embryo starts to split into identical twins but does not complete the process.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Manar Maged ): "Manar Maged "

Kids these days...

"Children today are tyrants.

They contradict their parents,

gobble their food

and tyrannize their teachers."


Saturday, April 23, 2005

China's Biggest Gamble - Can it have capitalism without democracy? A prediction. By Henry Blodget

China's Biggest Gamble - Can it have capitalism without democracy? A prediction. By Henry Blodget

Can You Drink Coke During Passover? Emily Yoffe

Can You Drink Coke During Passover? Emily Yoffe: "Yes. But kosher-for-Passover matzos are made under strictly supervised
conditions in which no more than 18 minutes pass between the mixing of
the flour and water and the completed baking. In that way, the dough is
considered unleavened because it didn't have time to rise."

TCS: Tech Central Station - Did Benedict XVI Take a Page Out of MacIntyre's Book?

TCS: Tech Central Station - Did Benedict XVI Take a Page Out of MacIntyre's Book?: "It's a win-win situation. Having withdrawn from the world, the new Benedictines, the new Cistercians, the new Pilgrims would no longer put off others with their sanctimonious, judgmental presences. But those who were drawn to their ethos would know where to look. And if history is any guide, where monasticism fled the world, the world would soon follow.

Did Benedict XVI Take a Page Out of MacIntyre's Book?
By Nathan Smith Published 04/22/2005
E-Mail Bookmark Print Save

I have a theory about why Joseph Ratzinger chose the papal name "Benedict:" he took his inspiration from Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue.

In After Virtue, written in 1984, MacIntyre argues that the Enlightenment project to establish a rational basis for morality has failed. He advocates a return to an Aristotelian-Catholic tradition, as the only viable alternative to Nietzschean moral nihilism. MacIntyre has since become the leading light of virtue ethics, and one of the most influential Catholic moral philosophers. Here is the final paragraph of After Virtue:

"It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead -- often not recognizing fully what they were doing -- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another -- doubtless very different -- St. Benedict. (After Virtue, p. 263)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Education Wonks: What Do You Think Of This?

The Education Wonks: What Do You Think Of This?: "Senator Beers had this to say about the proposal:" - Aggressive parents a growing problem for teachers - Apr 14, 2005 - Aggressive parents a growing problem for teachers - Apr 14, 2005: "DALLAS, Texas (AP) -- The shooting last week of a Texas high school
football coach -- allegedly by a player's father -- was just the latest
and most extreme example of the threats and assaults that teachers
around the country say they are increasingly being subjected to by
parents." - SAT scores: 2400 is the new 1600 - Apr 13, 2005

107 receive perfect scores in first sitting for new test

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 Posted: 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)

(AP) -- Austin Weiss is a pioneer in perfection, a charter member of an elite new club: students who scored a flawless 2400 on the new SAT.

When the college entrance exam expanded from two sections to three this year, the mark required for perfection rose from 1600 to 2400. This week, as the 300,000 students who took the first sitting of the new test March 12 began receiving scores, the College Board reported that 107 scored a perfect 800 on each of the three sections -- writing, critical reading and math. - SAT scores: 2400 is the new 1600 - Apr 13, 2005 - Study:�Kids who watch TV more likely to bully - Apr 5, 2005

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- The more television 4-year-old children watch the more likely they are to become bullies later on in school, a U.S. study said on Monday. - Study:�Kids who watch TV more likely to bully - Apr 5, 2005: "CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- The more
television 4-year-old children watch the more likely they are to become
bullies later on in school, a U.S. study said on Monday.

More Than One Right Answer. Play Chess.

At City College, Maurice Ashley, a grandmaster, instructs a class of teachers from Acorn High School in Brooklyn.
April 12, 2005

Chalkboards? Try Using Chessboards


Correction Appended

The games drew about 15 chess enthusiasts to a windowless conference room at City College in Harlem, where pawns and rooks were moved with such intensity of purpose that the scene could have passed for yet another high-stakes tournament.

The grandmaster and bona fide chess luminary Maurice Ashley was there, calling out commentary as he often does when championship matches are broadcast around the world. He is known to use lines like, "Pawns are attacking mercilessly!" and "The bishop is slicing and dicing!"

But what Mr. Ashley had to say about chess on this night was more academic. Literally. "A lot of times in education we try to teach kids the one right answer and that leads, in my opinion, to robotic thinking," he told the players, encouraging them to think of multiple possible moves before choosing the best play. "Real life isn't like that. Is there ever one right answer? Generating alternatives for the sake of alternatives is a good thing."

The players, mostly New York City public school teachers, nodded. This routine, the playing of chess followed by deep thoughts on education, happens every Wednesday night during a new class Mr. Ashley is teaching called "Introduction to Logical Thinking Through Chess" for the mathematics department at City College. Mr. Ashley and the dean of the college's school of education, Alfred S. Posamentier, organized the class with a lofty goal: improve teaching by guiding a group of teachers through the problem-solving strategies that are part of a good chess player's arsenal.

The seminar, an elective class worth two graduate credits, meets once a week for two and a half hours. Mr. Ashley tries to get the teachers to do what he does in chess and in life: think backward with a desired outcome in view, generate multiple options as possible solutions to any question, consider the perspectives of others, and give respect to the least powerful, the pawns of the game.

"Over the years, we have tried many different approaches to developing the most effective teachers," Dr. Posamentier said. "We have regulated the size of the class, the material the teacher uses, the kind of content background that is most desirable, and the philosophy that should work best. However, it seems we have not concentrated enough on the general thinking strategies that a teacher should master to maximize his effectiveness."

Now the educators are thinking about their thinking.

Before class on Wednesday night, Mr. Ashley explained a personal distaste for memorization and facts, and laid out his education philosophy, the one he hopes the teachers will take from the class: "Knowledge flips every day. What we know becomes wrong tomorrow. We need kids who know how to think."

The class seems a natural fit for Mr. Ashley. Unlike many of the country's top players who spend a lot of time preparing for tournaments, Mr. Ashley, a native of Jamaica who grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and lives in Queens, has been teaching children chess for years. He had never taught teachers before, but was willing to try.

"My method has always been not just to teach chess moves, but to better accelerate thinking and concentration skills," Mr. Ashley said. "These ideas have been a part of my technique for so long, I said, 'Of course!' "

The United States Chess Federation named Mr. Ashley Grandmaster of the Year in 2003, but other proud moments in his career involve lesser known titles. Mr. Ashley was coaching the Raging Rooks of Junior High School 43 in Harlem when they won the National Junior High School Championship in 1991. He also coached the Harlem-based Dark Knights, two-time national champions in the junior varsity division.

"What's he doing on campus? That was my first thought when I heard about the class," said Josh Weiner, a senior at City College who intends to be a math teacher.

Mr. Weiner was playing a tight match on Wednesday night against Eliza Kuberska, a Hunter College High School math teacher, and Levon Cooper, a City College administrator.

Ms. Kuberska said the class was the best she had ever taken. Just a novice chess player when she began several weeks ago, Ms. Kuberska has learned enough strategy to be a formidable opponent. She intends to tell her class about her transformation for inspiration.

"I want them to see that it's not magic," she said, speaking of problem-solving. "I want them to challenge their own presumptions about their capabilities. A lot of kids think if they weren't born a genius, they can't get it. But I want them to see that intuition can be learned; it can be taught."

Caridad Guerrero, who teaches seventh-grade math at Intermediate School 528 in Washington Heights, said she had learned that "one bad move doesn't end the game" and "to think beyond the moment."

She related that to her classroom this way: "Sometimes lessons don't go the way you planned. You had great ideas and it plays out another way. But that doesn't have to wreck your class."

Khalid Bashjawish, a ninth-grade English teacher at Flags High School in the Bronx, said Mr. Ashley's class had helped him push his students beyond their comfort zones to write more ambitious papers. He said he recently rejected an entire class's autobiographical essays because they were too limited in the exploration of "the self."

"You get stuck into habits of thought," he said. "Chess is a nice way to break out of that. This class has a way of saying, 'You can move beyond that.' "

The class is a product of a challenge that two alumni, Anne and Arnold Gumowitz, posed to Dr. Posamentier upon giving the college a $50,000 grant, officials said.

"There's no better sport that I know of than chess," said Mr. Gumowitz, who works with his wife as a real estate investor and a developer. He said he wanted to see if City College could do something that perhaps no college had: offer credits for chess. "I said we'll back it up with a grant and get a grandmaster, do it right," he said. "Maybe we'll get other grandmasters and get something started that's really great."

So the college came up with a way to incorporate chess into its math education.

"We had to think of something that made sense, because there are chess tournaments all over the map," Dr. Posamentier said. "But this teaching is really something special. It works."

Correction: April 15, 2005, Friday:

An article on Tuesday about a chess course for New York City public school teachers misidentified the City College unit that offers it. It is the math education program in the School of Education, not the Mathematics Department.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Exploring the Right to Share, Mix and Burn

From The New York Times > Arts > Music >

Finally a justification for stealing music from the internet...
Read on.

The New York Times > Arts > Music > Exploring the Right to Share, Mix and Burn: "Then again, this was the New York Public Library, a place of very high
ceilings and even higher cultural aspirations, so the rock concert vibe
created some dissonance. Inside, things became clearer as two high
priests of very different tribes came together to address the question
of 'Who Owns Culture?' - a discussion of digital file-sharing sponsored
by Wired magazine, part of a library series called 'Live From the

MIT students pull prank on conference

If only writing were this easy in philosophy...
On second thought, it really is.
Have you ever read some of that deconstructionist European crap?

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- In a victory for pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a bunch of computer-generated gibberish masquerading as an academic paper has been accepted at a scientific conference.

Jeremy Stribling said Thursday that he and two fellow MIT graduate students questioned the standards of some academic conferences, so they wrote a computer program to generate research papers complete with "context-free grammar," charts and diagrams.

The trio submitted two of the randomly assembled papers to the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), scheduled to be held July 10-13 in Orlando, Florida.

To their surprise, one of the papers -- "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy" -- was accepted for presentation. ""

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What Can Bloggers Do That Reporters Can't? - And vice versa. By Jack Shafer

How much of a journalist is a blogger? When does a blogger become a journalist? Read on...

Not that long ago, you had to be a professional reporter to publish defective copy. Not any more. Thanks to blogs, the journalist monopoly on the wide-scale propagation of blunders, boo-boos, and bloopers has vanished. Now, complete amateurs can embarrass themselves before huge audiences.

Bloggers demonstrated their skill at botching a story last month when a swarm of them accused the Washington Post and ABC News of journalistic malpractice. The two news organizations had reported on the existence of a GOP talking-points memo about Terri Schiavo. The bloggers asserted it was a Ratherian fake. As Eric Boehlert details in Salon, the nay-saying blogs consumed terabytes of bandwidth denouncing the Post and ABC. Powerline, Michelle Malkin, the American Spectator's Prowler, PoliPundit, and Accuracy in Media led the charge.

After the Post and others proved the legitimacy of the document on April 7, bloggers proved themselves the equals of their mainstream media colleagues once more by ignoring or glossing over their goof. Boehlert writes, "scanning the blogs involved in the memo story, readers found few corrections or references to lessons learned."

What Can Bloggers Do That Reporters Can't? - And�vice versa. By Jack Shafer

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Gamers will pay for it. The disabled will reap the benefits.

In the same way that the market for faster access to pornography created the supply of faster internet connections that we all now enjoy, so will the obsessive demands of gamers create new technology that might actually help people. And can you imagine those games.


Sony aims to beam sights, sounds into brain

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- If you think video games are engrossing now, just wait: PlayStation maker Sony Corp. has been granted a patent for beaming sensory information directly into the brain.

The technique could one day be used to create video games in which you can smell, taste, and touch, or to help people who are blind or deaf.

The U.S. patent, granted to Sony researcher Thomas Dawson, describes a technique for aiming ultrasonic pulses at specific areas of the brain to induce "sensory experiences" such as smells, sounds and images.

"The pulsed ultrasonic signal alters the neural timing in the cortex," the patent states. "No invasive surgery is needed to assist a person, such as a blind person, to view live and/or recorded images or hear sounds."

According to New Scientist magazine, the first to report on the patent, Sony's technique could be an improvement over an existing non-surgical method known as transcranial magnetic stimulation. This activates nerves using rapidly changing magnetic fields, but cannot be focused on small groups of brain cells.

Niels Birbaumer, a neuroscientist at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, told New Scientist he had looked at the Sony patent and "found it plausible." Birbaumer himself has developed a device that enables disabled people to communicate by reading their brain waves.

A Sony Electronics spokeswoman told the magazine that no experiments had been conducted, and that the patent "was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."

Copyright 2005 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Friday, April 08, 2005

medical examiner

Quality Control
The case against peer review.
By Daniel Engber
Posted Tuesday, April 5, 2005, at 11:03 AM PT

In September 2001, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine weighed in on the healing power of God. A Columbia University research group reported that patients at a fertility clinic in Seoul were twice as likely to get pregnant when Christians prayed for them. Within a month, the study was in the New York Times science section and on Good Morning America, where the medical editor for ABC News called it "very well done" and opined that "getting pregnant involves a lot of biological, psychological, maybe even spiritual factors that we don't yet understand."

The prayer study has since fallen from grace. Scientists around the world wrote angry letters to the journal attacking the methodology, and the research-protections office of the Department of Health and Human Services looked into whether the subjects had properly given consent. Last year, the study's senior author removed his name from the paper, saying that he hadn't directly participated in the research. The real lead author will not discuss the work, and the third author—a parapsychologist, lawyer, and convicted con man—is now serving time in a federal prison (for an unrelated charge of fraud).

Why did this quackery get so far before being exposed? The prayer study seemed legitimate because it appeared in the pages of a "peer-reviewed" medical journal. That means the paper was vetted by an independent panel of experts in the field.

Peer review is the gold standard of modern science. For medical researchers and other scientists, it's the gateway to funding, publication, and career advancement. When they apply for government grants from the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation, their proposals are reviewed by a panel of their colleagues. When they submit their completed work for publication, journals and university presses ask for the opinions of others in the field. And when they apply for jobs or tenure, scientists are judged largely on the basis of their peer-reviewed publications.

Scientists give peer review so much authority because they view it as a part of the grand tradition of scientific inquiry—an extension, even, of the formal experimental method. Peer evaluation is the endpoint of a cautious progression from theories and predictions to experiments and results. The system dates from the 1700s, when the Royal Society of London set up a "Committee on Papers" with the power to solicit expert opinions. It became the standard for scientific publication only after World War II, when the dramatic expansion of scientific research swamped journal editors and made them look to outsiders for help. Ever since, scientists have claimed that peer review filters out lousy papers, faulty experiments, and irrelevant findings. They say it improves the quality of an accepted paper by providing helpful comments for revision. And they can't imagine a better way to accomplish these goals.

So, what explains the Columbia prayer study? Journal editors will tell you that peer review is not designed to detect fraud—clever misinformation will sail right through no matter how scrupulous the reviews. But the prayer study wasn't a clever fraud. It was sprinkled with suspect elements, not the least of which was a set of results that violated known laws of science. The authors also used a needlessly convoluted experimental design; these and other red flags in the study have been cataloged on the Web by obstetrician and enthusiastic debunker Bruce Flamm. Even on its own terms, then, as a filter for lousy papers and bad experiments, peer review of the Columbia prayer study was a spectacular failure. Here's the problem: Despite its authority and influence over every aspect of the scientific community, no one has ever shown that peer review accomplishes anything at all.

Daniel Engber is a writer in New York City.

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