A Skeptic Over Coffee #1: Starter Kit


It takes effort and maintained vigilance to become an effective skeptic, with the penetrating mental focus to cut through the misleading. Honing one’s questioning acuity means hardening one’s mental defenses against charlatans, fraudsters, and the merely incompetent in all walks of life. With practice it’s possible to be the infamous “Reviewer Number 3” who gradually gets fewer and fewer invitations to provide peer-review for “paradigm shifting” articles from editors of high-impact journals. It may seem like a grandiose dream, but you too can in fact be the colleague who corrects the university press office’s outlandish claims about their own paper, causing their tenure review to be shelfed for another year (for failure to be interviewed on Science Friday</a<). If this glamourous lifestyle of modest claims and bold negations sounds appealing, read on!

I invite you to join me every once in a while to practice skepticism in these short segments designed to provide about one coffee's worth of skeptical inquiry. My day job pushing things around with lasers both takes a lot of time and requires that I drink a tremendous amount of coffee, so the concise aSOC format should fit right in with my new lab-monkey lifestyle.

Here is your Beginning Skeptics’ reading list:

  • A seminal paper by John Ioannidis runs the numbers on an over-abundance of false-positives in the scientific literature.
    John P.A. Ionnidis. Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLOS. (2005). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

  • Retraction Watch is an important resource for any skeptic. If someone consistently publishes retractable articles and no one notices, does anyone lose their scientist licence?
  • Jeffrey Beall runs black lists of predatory publishers and journals taking advantage of pay-for-publish open access models atScholarly Open Access. Also consider John Bohannon’s misleading report generalising predatory practices by OA publishers and ensuing criticism of his approach.
  • And remember your statistics:
    Why it Always Pays to Think Twice About Your Statistics
    An investigation of the false discovery rate and the misinterpretation of p-values

  • UPDATE: Recent, interesting consideration of widespread inflation of scientific results.
    Megan L. Head, Luke Holman, Rob Lanfear, Andrew T. Kahn, Michael D. Jennions.
    The Extent and Consequences of P-Hacking in Science.
    PLOS. (2015) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002106