Monday, 11 December 2017

The Full Life of Myths versus the Half-Life of Facts


Prestigious Citations Scores can be had by Publishing Busted Bullony.
I’m currently reading Sam Arbesman’s excellent book The Half-Life of Facts, a book that I was only aware of after receiving an email from Sam to let me know his book supported a myth that he had only learned was a myth - rather than a science knowledge fact about bad science - after going into print. The myth is the one that Steven Strogatz mentions as though it is a veracious science knowledge fact in the promotional blurbs on the dust jacket of Sam’s book and you'll find it wrongly disseminated again by Sam himself at pages 83 and 84 of this excellent book. The myth is the widely believed Spinach Popeye Iron Decimal Error Story (SPIDES). And Sam is in an excellent company of respected skeptical scientists and other scholars who have been weirdly suckered by the SPIDES. You can read my Amazon review of the Half-life of facts here.

Sam blogged on his Wired science blog to set the record straight and added the mythbusting he had missed in the Errata and updates web page for this book. His own immediate admission of his human error in fact proves the central thesis of this excellent book. To my mind anyone who responds that diligently to what must have been a cringe-worthy "Oh doh!" moment is a scientist whose work is worth following. I'd like to thank Sam for the virtual handshake - he's a much bigger man the little English criminology professor who went into email ballistic bullying and threatening mode when I recently busted the myth he created in my own field of criminology. Moreover, the ranting mythbusted professor had been asked to peer review the very paper I wrote that busted his myth by the very prestigious criminology journal that I sent it to. This was a clear and highly unethical breach of its publisher's promise that all peer reviews are (a) anonymous and (b) must not have a conflict of interest. But that’s another story for another day.

Interestingly, academic careers can be built on publishing claptrap as veracious knowledge, even after the claptrap has been mythbusted. And if particular claptrap is heavily cited by superior academics for that very reason the publisher of the claptrap gets rewarded by a high citations score!

Arbesman (p 17.), who to my mind is such a superior academic, writes about the significance attached to the h-index of the number of times an author’s work has been published. As he explains: “if you have an h-index score of 45, it means you have 45 articles that have been cited at least forty five times (though you have likely published many more articles that have been cited fewer times)”. I’m intrigued as an academic criminologist in search of a chair that my own h-index score of 9 will, as soon as I get one more citation on any one of a couple of papers that have so far been cited nine times, be more than twice as high as that of the average professor of social sciences – at least according to experts at the London School of Economics.

h-index scores by the London School of Economics

So, I suppose, it’s probably a good idea for me to add my h-score and Google scholar link to my CV. You can see my h-index score here.

Readers of Best Thinking may be intrigued to know that Google Scholar’s h-index does not yet appear (I believe) to include Best Thinking articles in its scoring. Yet the busting of the spinach myth here on Best Thinking is the Best Thinking article that Arbesman mentions in his blog and in the Errata and updates page for his book. Surely then, Google Scholar needs to polish up its act in this regard if is to contribute to the shortening of the full life of myths. That said, if there is a message to be had from this blog, it’s this: When going into print, first Google your ‘known’ facts lest they be already consigned to the mythbin.

For me, the fascinating question that remains outside of the realms of how knowledge expands at exponential rates is why is the SPIDES myth is so widely believed and decimated by skeptical scholars? Perhaps we need to study the whole life of myths believed by experts, particularly those believed by credulous skeptics who weirdly fail to check the underlying premises and facts for widely believed claims? And that, dear readers is the core theme of the book I am currently writing and intend publishing (if they’ll have me) as a Thinker Media e-book here on Best Thinking. The book is on the Spinach Myth. My hope is that it will be picked up by Google Scholar and added to my h-index score in the same way that those who continue to credulously disseminate myths as veracious truths benefit from writing claptrap. Only time will tell. And before then, I've got to finish it.

Postscript 19th November 2012:
Unfortunately, after finishing The Half Life of Facts, I have to report that Arbesman credulously propagates yet another Supermyth. Namely, the Semmelweis Myth. You can read about it here .


Arbesman, S. (2012) The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has An Expiration Date. London. Current. Penguin Books.

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