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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Advice from famous physicist Feynman: “You must not fool yourself”

My bookseller friend Rich emailed recently about a find he made:
>In your physics days, did you ever encounter the famous Feynmann Lectures in book form (three volume set)? Feynmann was a respected renegade, if there IS such a thing. But he was good enough to be appointed to the Challenger's explosion evaluation. Interestingly, before the SSTs flew, he predicted a 2% failure rate -- and he's been right on.<

That reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by this renowned that I bring up when discussing the dangers of deleting experimental outliers:
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool.”
It comes from a Feynmann’s talk on Cargo Cult Science.

PS. While searching the internet on the topic of bias, I came across an interesting website that provides “an outlet for experiments that do not reach the traditional significance levels (p < .05)”! It’s called the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis. The journal’s purpose is to reduce the ‘file drawer problem,’ that is the tendency for unpublished results to get buried in researchers' file cabinets.*

*To learn about this propensity to publish only the positive, read this study by Jeffrey D. Scargle of the Space Science Division National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Ames Research Center.


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