Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Every day in every way I am growing better and better one day older

"Remember the Butterfly Effect?" said tigris.

"Isn't that where the instability of chaotic non-linear dynamics means that a butterfly stamping his foot can be magnified so that djinns lift the palace and gardens of Suleiman-bin-Daoud a thousand miles into the sky, amid a great tohu-bohu of thunder and darkness and dust?" I said.

"It's when you go back 75 million years in the time machine and tread on a butterfly and change the switch-points of the time-line so that the wrong side wins the war," Another Kiwi said. "Or so I hear from a friend. Stupid butterflies, getting trodden on so easily, you'd think they could keep out from underfoot what with being able to fly and all."

So chaotic systems and non-linear dynamics and fractal attractors were big all through the 1990s (and some of us even started Ph.D research into chaotic instabilities in acoustic generation, manifesting as sub-harmonics in baby cries, until we got side-tracked). By 2000 of course the hipsters had all moved on to super-string theory or such as. This here Sokal-hoax parody paper was a little behind the ball when it came out in 2005:

Nominally it is a revival of the century-old Positive Thinking scam. The goal was to show that a major psych. journal will publish a cartload of warmed-up gibberish if it is gussied up with a wordwooze of chaos-theory bafflegab -- not bothering to check whether the equations are in any way related to human psychology, nor questioning the absurd specificity of a 2.9013 transition point for the ratio between positive and negative affect (five significant figures? O RLY?).*
NO WAIT the 2005 paper was not a Sokal-style hoax. It may be the stupidest thing since Lacan convinced his acolytes that post-Freudian theory is a branch of knot topology, but it was not deliberately designed to expose the editors' credulity and cargo-cult reverence for mathemagical buzzwords and Mystic Symbols.

It now enjoys the status of "partially retracted"; here is an amusing account of a skeptic's dawning realisation that the emperor is a house of cards built on sand wearing no clothes (see also). The first author has explained that she never understood the mathematical claims in the paper, so she does not and cannot be expected to stand by them, and it was the reviewers' job, not hers, to check them out. And anyway the modelling two-thirds of the paper was only a minor aspect... padding, basically. And if she later turned those minor non-understood mathematical claims into a best-selling self-help book, again the peer-review process had accepted them, so not her fault.

Frederickson can be forgiven for not giving the rebuttal of her 2005 work her full attention, focussed as it is on a totally different crap paper -- this time relating positive emotions and gene expression -- which she snuck into PNAS.

The second author, meanwhile, a management psychologist and con-man (but I repeat myself), has gone to ground. You should look at his earlier papers (as recommended a year ago by commentator Narad). They are wonders to behold, if you like vague metaphors mistaken for rigorous mathematical statements to an extent seldom encountered outside of florid psychosis, all expressed in a tone of preening self-adornment.

Lorenz Butterfly diagram hoicked from Losada
(1999) to justify use of bicycle-related tag
"It would be easier for everyone," Another Kiwi vouchsafed, "if there were an academic journal devoted purely to publishing Sokal-style hoax papers that expose the editors' gullible naïveté."

"Only papers that revolve around acoustics or negative emotions," I said. "That way we could call it 'Sound and Fury'."
* Also Boolean algebra! Who could doubt the applicability of Boolean algebra to consciousness?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

a great tohu-bohu of thunder


Substance McGravitas said...

some of us even started Ph.D research into chaotic instabilities in acoustic generation, manifesting as sub-harmonics in baby cries

Behind AGAIN.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

1. Start Ph.D research into chaotic instabilities in acoustic generation, manifesting as sub-harmonics in baby cries.

2. ??????

3. Profit!

Smut Clyde said...

Not making this up.

M. Bouffant said...

The Butterfly Effect ... that was the band so-&-so was in before s/he was in that other band, right?

(Thought there might be an Iron Butterfly joke/reference in there, but didn't try too hard.)

M. Bouffant said...

Institute of Theoretical Biology? I have lots of theories!!