Posts Tagged ‘Research’

Is Facebook a forum for narcissists (and maybe also for narcissistic researchers?)

March 19, 2013

Facebook is providing a fertile hunting ground for simplistic “research” by a new breed of “researchers”. Social psychology is still just a discipline and has yet to reach the level of a “science”. But I note that surveys of Facebook users is multiplying and seems to have  become a new field of social psychology. The surveys are easily done, usually include a sample size of just a few hundred (small enough to access on a University campus or in a town square) and draw fanciful conclusions to capture the headlines. They provide an easy way to publication. Such “Facebook research” is not “bad science” – if even “science” at all – but much of it is trivial and just provides a quick, cheap way of getting published. In this case the “research” has been done by someone from the School of Computing at the University of Portsmouth.

The University of Portsmouth has issued a press release  about a survey which finds that “Using Facebook to look at old photos of yourself and wall posts that you have written could be as soothing as a walk in the park” and this has received much coverage. But whereas the “researchers” find this beneficial, what they they seem to be describing is a sort of narcissistic – and not very healthy – behaviour. Narcissism is when a healthy self-esteem crosses over into being an unhealthy obsession with one’s self and I would have thought that the survey results are a warning sign. But of course the behaviour described would be considered beneficial – by another narcissist.

Using Facebook to look at old photos of yourself and wall posts that you have written could be as soothing as a walk in the parkAlmost 90 percent of users access the site to look at their own wall posts, and three quarters look at their own photos when they are feeling low, new research has found.

A report by Dr Alice Good, of the University of Portsmouth, has found that this kind of ‘self soothing’ use of Facebook is actually beneficial to the user’s mood, especially if they are prone to feeling low. This directly contradicts previous research that has suggested that looking at Facebook can be bad for your mental health.

Dr Alice Good

Dr Good said: “We were very surprised by these findings, which contradict some recent reports.  Although this was only a small study, we will go on to study larger groups to see if the results remain consistent.”

Dr Good, of the School of Computing, quizzed 144 Facebook users and found that people often use the social network to reminisce, using old photos and wall posts as a form of comfort.

Looking back at older photos and wall posts is the main activity, and the one that made them happiest.

Psychologist Dr Clare Wilson, of the University of Portsmouth says:

“Although this is a pilot study, these findings are fascinating. Facebook is marketed as a means of communicating with others. Yet this research shows we are more likely to use it to connect with our past selves, perhaps when our present selves need reassuring.

“The pictures we often post are reminders of a positive past event. When in the grips of a negative mood, it is too easy to forget how good we often feel. Our positive posts can remind us of this.”

The survey also found that people who have experienced mental health issues are particularly comforted by the site. Dr Good said: “The results indicate we could use self-soothing as a form of treatment for low moods.”

The study has concluded that looking at comforting photos, known as reminiscent therapy, could be an effective method of treating mental health.

Scientists already know that reminiscent therapy helps older people with memory problems.

The use of old photos, items and films can provide a way for people with short-term memory loss to feel comforted by objects that are familiar to them.

This new research shows that it could also an effective treatment for people with depression or anxiety.

The act of self-soothing is an essential tool in helping people to calm down, especially if they have an existing mental health condition. If a patient self soothes there is less chance of a problem escalating.

The report also looked at ways of accessing Facebook, with phones being the most popular method and 94 per cent admitting they had their phone on them at all time, with around 70 per cent actually preferring to access Facebook using their phone over more conventional methods, such as a PC or laptop, suggesting people have a desire for immediacy, both in accessing the site as well as for viewing photos.

This study is part of a larger research project that looks at how applications can support wellbeing and effectively self soothe.

This research is published in the journal ‘Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction’. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.

LSE on Blogging: “Blogging is .. one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now”

February 27, 2012

Patrick Dunleavy (Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science) and Chris Gilson (Managing Editor of the EUROPP blog) discuss social scientists’ obligation to spread their research to the wider world and how blogging can help academics break out of restrictive publishing loops.

Five minutes with Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson

One of the recurring themes (from many different contributors) on the Impact of Social Science blog is that a new paradigm of research communications has grown up – one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication in which blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ news-streams and communities.  So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.

But in addition, social scientists have an obligation to society to contribute their observations to the wider world – and at the moment that’s often being done in ramshackle and impoverished ways, in pointlessly obscure or charged-for forums, in language where you need to look up every second word in Wikipedia, with acres of ‘dead-on-arrival’ data in unreadable tables, and all delivered over bizarrely long-winded timescales. So the public pay for all our research, and then we shunt back to them a few press releases and a lot of out-of-date academic junk.

Blogging (supported by academic tweeting) helps academics break out of all these loops. It’s quick to do in real time. It taps academic expertise when it’s relevant, and so lets academics look forward and speculate in evidence-based ways. It communicates bottom-line results and ‘take aways’ in clear language, yet with due regard to methods issues and quality of evidence. …..  

(my emphasis)

The data, all the data and nothing but the data

January 5, 2012

(Reuters)Unreported data from early trials of experimental medicines in humans can result in harm to future patients and needless costs for health systems, according to scientists writing in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday.

The role of statistics in research leads to obvious risks for the drawing of conclusions about causal relationships between parameters without actually increasing the understanding about the underlying mechanisms. In pharmaceutical and health research such conclusions provide enormous financial benefits for the researchers and their sponsors – and not always in the interests of the patients involved.


Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists?

November 28, 2010

Cases of scientific misconduct do not seem to lead to any significant sanctions. Scientists are not subject to the codes of ethics that other professions have (even if they are not always complied with). Lawyers and doctors and engineers can be “disbarred” or otherwise forbidden from practising their professions when found guilty of incompetence or fraud.  Why then can a physicist or a chemist or a biochemist not be subject to the same professional sanctions for misconduct? Learned Institutes of Physics or Chemistry or Mathematics rarely get involved in the ethics breaches of their members. Scientists also need to be held responsible (liable) for their work and in cases of fraudulent science or misconduct, the sanctions applied need to be seen to be in balance with the extent of the offence.

There have been many cases of scientific misconduct where the offender seems to get little more than a slap on the wrist or a mild reprimand. In some cases they leave one institution and merely move to another. Their degrees are rarely revoked and they usually continue “working” or faking work in some other institution.

Retraction Watch addresses the details of the case of the fraud committed by Dr Jatinder Ahluwalia at University College London which led to the retraction of a paper in Nature.

Earlier this month, we posted an item about the retraction of a 2004Nature paper, “The large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel is essential for innate immunity.” (That post was followed up with provocative comments from a researcher not affiliated with the authors, about what should happen to papers whose results can’t be replicated.)

One of the paper’s authors, Jatinder Ahluwalia, hadn’t signed the retraction, and the notice referred to “Supplementary Information” that hadn’t yet been made available. Today, University College London (UCL) posted that supplementary information, which was the report of a panel that investigated charges of research misconduct against Ahluwalia. That report fills in a lot of details about what preceded the retraction.

UCL’s investigation found that Ahluwalia:

  • falsified the results of experiments conducted by him, on UCL premises, thereby committing research fraud, as defined by paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. It was alleged that Dr Ahluwalia altered the numbering of files of research results so as to misrepresent the results of experiments conducted by him;
  • further falsified and misrepresented the results of experiments conducted by him, on UCL premises, by the use of materials other than those specified in the reports of the results of those experiments, thereby committing research fraud, as defined by paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research;
  • interfered with the experiments of others so as to distort their results, thus falsifying the results of research experiments conducted by others employed by UCL on UCL premises, thereby committing research fraud, as defined in paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. It was alleged that Dr Ahluwalia deliberately contaminated chemicals used by other researchers in their experiments so as to falsify the results of those experiments, in order to conceal the falsification by him of the results of his own experiments.

Dr Ahluwalia is currently employed as a Senior Lecturer & Programme leader in BSc & MSc Pharmacology at the School of Health and Biosciences, University of East London,  Stratford Campus, Romford Road, London E15 4LZ, United Kingdom. For having committed fraud and engaged in sabotage and even though he is no longer employed by UCL, it does not seem that his behaviour has led to any significant sanctions.

Recently a Harvard University investigation found its high-profile Professor Marc Hauser guilty of 8 counts of misconduct and sent him on a year’s “book leave” and he will resume his activities next year. He does not lose tenure and his degrees are not revoked and the sanction seems relatively mild in relation to his behaviour.

The product that researchers and scientists produce is publications – mainly as papers published in scientific journals and as books. Scientific misconduct (whether plagiarism or faking data or inventing data or cherry picking data) leads occasionally to dismissals (but not always) and generally very little else. It seems to me that the concept of tort or “product liability” should be applicable to the work of scientists and researchers where their work is the result of faking data, fraud or other misconduct since it would be work that “had not been done in good faith”. Tort would apply because the ramifications of their misconduct would extend far beyond their employment contracts with their employers.

Tort  (from Wikipedia) is a wrong:

that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from criminal wrongdoing which involves a breach of a duty owed to society, and also does not include breach of contract. Tort cases may comprise such topics as auto accidents, false imprisonment, slander and libel, product liability (such as defectively designed consumer products), and environmental pollution (toxic torts).

Clearly a researcher has a civic duty to his co-workers, his department, his institution, his publishers and to the global community working in the same field. Scientific misconduct is a clear breach of these duties and any such researcher must then be both accountable and liable. Sanctions in such cases must be commensurate and seen to be commensurate with the offence. A year’s sabbatical from Harvard or merely moving across town to be employed at another university does not seem to be in balance with the weight of the misconduct.

The employment contract of a researcher with any institution no doubt has the appropriate language which allows sanctions (including dismissal) for breach of contract. However the liability of a fraudulent researcher – especially with published papers and books – goes beyond a simple breach of contract with his employer and extends to the entire community of workers in the field and even to all readers who may be influenced by the fraudulent work. For commensurate sanctions to be possible it becomes necessary for the concept of tort to be introduced and for  “product liability” to reside with the researcher whereby he can be held accountable by the entire audience his “product” is addressed to.

Authors of scientific papers and books need to be responsible and liable for their products.

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