Apr 21 2017

Some Brain Science Hype

scalp-EEGTwo recent neuroscience news items in The Independent represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism today and the tendency to overhype incremental studies.

Brain-Machine Interface

Here’s the first:

Device that can literally read your mind invented by scientists. An ‘easily operated’ machine linked to a smartphone could be ready within five years.

Um, no.  I have be writing about this technology for years, because it is genuinely interesting and I think is a technology to watch. Several labs have made significant progress in brain-machine interfaces. The idea is that you read the electrical activity of the brain with either scalp electrodes or brain surface electrodes. Scientists have developed software that interprets the EEG patterns and learns to correlate them with the thoughts or intentions of the subject. The subject, in turn, learns to control their mental activity to affect the EEG output.

Here is where the technology stands: With brain surface electrodes, you get a much greater resolution of EEG activity. The software has progressed to the point that monkeys can control a robotic arm with sufficient subtlety to feed themselves.

With humans we have mostly used scalp electrodes, which have a more blurry signal. Even with these people have learned to control robots or control a cursor on a computer.

Further, using fMRI and EEG analysis some labs have been able to “read” the minds of subjects in a very crude way, by telling what letter they are looking at, for example.

The main limiting factor to this technology right now is the electrodes. Scalp surface electrodes do not give enough detail, and brain surface electrodes are too invasive. The electrodes move when the brain pulses, and eventually scar over and stop working. They are also at risk of infection. Labs are working on developing electrodes that you insert into the veins of the brain, or more flexible brain surface electrodes that reduce movement and scarring.

The software is already pretty robust, but is improving incrementally as we get better at designing learning algorithms.

It’s hard to say when all of this will get to that tipping point where medical applications become viable and even routine. Five years is too ambitious. Something like 10-20 years is more realistic. I do think it’s coming, however.

With this background, let’s look at what the team from Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan accomplished. they used a cap covered in scalp electrodes to read EEG activity, and used “deep learning” softward to analyse the activity. They had subjects say out loud numbers from 0 to 9. The software was eventually able to distinguish among these options with 90% accuracy.

They also tested with 18 monosyllabic words, and were able to achieve 61% accuracy.

OK, that’s interesting. That is a nice incremental study. It is not fundamentally different than prior research, however. At best it is a small advance in the software.

The Independent article, however, takes this tiny advance and goes entirely off the rails. First, scientists did not invent a “mind reading device.” They didn’t invent any new technology, and it is a real stretch to call this mind reading. It is using EEG signals to match a very limited number of targets. Also, in this study the subject were saying the number or word out loud. It’s unclear how that affected the information going to the EEG (muscle movements also generate electrical activity).

Most of the article, however, was spent in wild speculation. They were throwing out applications that may be 50 years away, without making that clear. The notion that a mind-reading device will be ready in a smartphone app in five years is absurd. First, they claim they can reduce the number of electrodes. What is that based on? The main limiting factor here is that surface electrodes give a blurry signal, so you have to use a lot of them. I see no advance that changes this fundamental limitation.

Further, they are probably compensating for using scalp electrodes with computer crunching power. It sounds optimistic to say this will be a simple smartphone app in five years.

Everything You Know is Wrong

Here’s the next article:

‘Mind-blowing’ discovery could revolutionise our understanding of how brain works. ‘The implications, if this interpretation is correct, are massive’

Again, the study is interesting, but the implications fall far short of “mindblowing” and I highly doubt it will have “massive” implications.

The researchers used fMRI scanners to look at brain activity in people born with only one hand. They found that when the subjects were doing tasks they would normally do with the missing hand, this often involved multiple body parts. Those body parts, of course, lit up. But also the part of the cortex that would normally serve the missing hand also lit up. That part of the brain now maps to the body parts substituting for the missing hand.

They conclude:

Because the same body parts used for compensatory purposes are those showing increased representation in the missing hand’s territory, we suggest that the typical hand territory may not necessarily represent the hand per se, but rather any other body part that shares the functionality of the missing hand.

Again, interesting. However, the conclusion is pure speculation, and in my opinion is a bit of a stretch. But listen to how this gets translated in the Independent article.

This suggests that the brain is not organised so that each area is responsible for an individual body part, but that different areas are responsible for different functions.

Dr Makin said: “If true, this means we’ve been misinterpreting brain organisation based on body part, rather than based on function.

“It’s kind of mind blowing for me to think we could have been getting this wrong for so long.

“The implications, if this interpretation is correct, are massive.”

Sorry, but this sounds like utter dreck.

First, the motor cortex is clearly organized by body part. There is what we call the motor homonculus, which is a physical representation of the body on the motor strip. It is organized anatomically, not functionally. The size of the body part on the motor cortex is directly proportional to the number of motor units needed to control that body part. So, the hands are large because our hands have a lot of small motor units. The deltoids are small because they have fewer (but larger) motor units, with correspondingly cruder control.

The fallacy here is the false dichotomy, the notion that the motor cortex is either anatomically or functionally organized. It is almost certainly both. The basic layout of the primary motor neurons are clearly anatomical. However, we do stuff with our muscles, and these actions require networks that are functionally organized.

These new findings, while interesting, I don’t find surprising at all. It does not imply that the hand region of the motor cortex maps only to what the hand does, not the hand itself, and the article suggests.

There are two other factors that limit how we can interpret this study. First, the hands are different than any other body part because we do so much with them. It makes sense that the motor cortex for the hands would have lots of functional connections to other parts of the cortex.

Second, the subjects in this study are not normal. They are missing a body part, so the usual program of somatotopic organization breaks down. There is, essentially, a large part of the motor cortex that would normally map to the hand that now has nothing to do. We know from prior studies that unused brain cortex will get recruited.

So, there is part of the brain with nothing to do, and the person has to learn new motor techniques to compensate for the missing limb. Hmm…. I wonder if the unused part of the brain will get recruited to do the new tasks.

So the fundamental conclusion of this study may not be true, and may just be an artifact of the subjects they are studying. That would be, in my opinion, the more parsimonious interpretation.

Further, even if true (that the hands have some functional mapping) it may be limited to the hands, and further it probably does not replace but supplements anatomical mapping.

At best we have a totally incremental and entirely unsurprising (although interesting) new bit of information. However, we cannot be sure how to properly interpret the results of this study without a lot more information.

Mind not blown. Paradigm not shifted.

What is sad is that there is a lot of interesting neuroscience to talk about here. The study is genuinely interesting, and when put into its proper context is newsworthy. It’s simply not a revolution.


When I read such articles it is always my question as to who is mostly to blame here. Was the hype coming from the researchers, the press office, or the journalists? This question has actually been studied, and it seems that statistically the press office is most commonly to blame. However, all three usually contribute to some degree.

I understand why scientists want to emphasize what could be exciting implications of their research, and I am not suggesting they should all be boring sticks-in-the-mud. But they should not be naive about science journalism. They have to be very careful when discussing the implications of their research and anticipate how it can be overhyped.

There also needs to be a better working relationship between scientists and their press offices.

Finally, we need dedicated science journalists who can put a story into a proper context. The Independent did a terrible job on both articles. They did not appear to talk to other scientists to help them put the study into context. They took the hype offered to them by the scientists or their press representatives and ran with it.

In both cases an opportunity to learn some fascinating neuroscience was missed and replaced with a distraction of unwarranted hype.

87 responses so far

87 thoughts on “Some Brain Science Hype”

  1. Tio says:

    Well…the “reading the mind” vs “picking up some specific brain activity and connect it with simple basic movements of a mechanic limb movement” is quite a huge stretch. “Reading the mind” is such an impossible task since the mind is a constant flow of information getting in, getting out, being mixed inside. It is very discouraging to see today’s ‘journalism’ behaving like 15-year-olds who want to impress their classmates.

    I was reading last night this post from the popular waitbutwhy about Elon Musk’s “neuralink” idea of “reading the mind” http://waitbutwhy.com/2017/04/neuralink.html and I was amazed at how much speculation was in there as well. But people like these things and they think are good representations of what’s about to come: we will soon be able to read people’s minds and talk with each other from brain to brain, and transfer movies between brains, and stuff. Wild speculations.

  2. Germaine says:

    Press reporting on science has typically been D or C level work for at least the last 20 years or so. Technology is too complex and moves too fast for journalists who usually aren’t trained in science. They need to slow down and get more help and context. That takes more money, which is often (usually?) disfavored for economic reasons and sometimes for ideological and/or corporate reasons.

    Another other area where the ‘poor grasp of technology’ problem has become acute is in the federal courts, the supreme court in particular. Courts are now making bad decisions in significant part because of their weak grasp of the science, lack of context and misunderstanding of how incremental progress can be. The incremental stuff can sometimes be subtle but very important. That point is lost on lots of federal judges.

    Fortunately (or maybe not), the courts so far haven’t figured ways to politicize most science. Its too technical. Because of that, when they get the science wrong, they often most all get it wrong. 9-0 and 8-1 decisions are common. Is a rare example of bipartisanship. Maybe none of this is surprising. Judges, like journalists, usually aren’t trained scientists.

    Ditto all that for politicians. In spades.

    All this points to the bigger problem. Technology has blown way past society’s capacity to assess, absorb and use or act on it properly. The problem is becoming more acute, not less because the pace of progress has accelerated. That leaves a growing gap for sophisticated interests who know exactly what technology is and how to exploit it that much freedom to operate. Of course, we all know whose interests those exploits will favor and disfavor. Technology gaps constitute an ecosystem that’s worth hundreds of billions for those in a position to capitalize on them.

  3. BBBlue says:

    Release of reports a promotional effort timed to coincide with airing of “The Discovery”? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5155780/

  4. Sarah says:

    And then when it fails to manifest, they get jaded and mistrust scientists :/

    The whole “flying cars” hype comes to mind – something that was blown vastly out of proportion by starry-eyed journalists.

  5. mumadadd says:

    So, what happens to the motor hominculi of monkeys who learn to control a robotic arm? Do they lose some functionality from other parts of the homunculus? Or is it mapped to some other region of the cortex that is used less? (Or neither, obviously).

  6. Sophie says:

    Not to be a buzz kill twice in one week, but you know the Indy is owned by a Russian oligarch and former KGB officer right? It’s also not even in the top ten biggest U.K. Newspapers. That first article has 24 comments in 4 days, that’s less than some posts on this blog.



    1) highly questionable, low quality source
    2) no one reads this stuff anyways
    Conclusion: weak target

  7. CKava says:

    The Independent may not be particularly popular but this kind of science reporting and the problems it represents are not limited to the Independent. You probably find these kind of science hyping stories even more frequently in popular tabloids like the Daily Mail and the Sun, but it also crops up from time to time in the better broadsheets.

    Steve’s conclusion also seems worth emphasising: “When I read such articles it is always my question as to who is mostly to blame here. Was the hype coming from the researchers, the press office, or the journalists? This question has actually been studied, and it seems that statistically the press office is most commonly to blame. However, all three usually contribute to some degree.”

  8. edamame says:

    mumadadd that is a great question and is an active research area. Short answer, we don’t know yet but probably will soon.

    Longer answer: At a behavioral level, they are able to switch pretty effortlessly between neuronal control of a robotic arm and real arm. For instance:

    We also know that the neurons controlling a robotic limb for BMI (brain machine interface) undergo plasticity so that their traditional motor tuning properties (e.g., velocity tuning curves) change as they go through training with the BMI:

    This is still an extremely active research area, but it seems that even neurons that are not directly involved with controlling the prosthesis undergo plasticity, so there is large-scale reorganization of the motor homunculus on a system-wide scale:

    But this has still really only been looked at in relatively small dimensions with small electrode arrays, to my knowledge. Not M1 as a whole, for instance, but looking at subpopulations of neurons in a little region of M1, where neurons controlling the BMI are interspersed with those not controlling it. To my knowledge, they haven’t yet quantified dropoff in plasticity with spatial distance from the epicenter of the BMI-controlling neurons.

  9. Sophie says:

    Yes let’s all ignore the fact that a former KGB officer and current Russian Oligarch owns the newspaper. Do you know what a Russian Oligarch is, and what political influence they have? Do you think that country has good business practices and a decent human rights record? Russia isn’t a democracy, I don’t support their products like this newspaper.

    We should also not act like this is a real newspaper that we should go to get information about brain-computer interface technology. I can understand why as a skeptic, Steve would want to talk about this, what I can’t understand is how there is no mention of something in a publication people actually read. This is an article about how Facebook is developing new technology for this same purpose that will attempt to use new optical sensors. In The Guardian.

    This new facebook mind reading story is everywhere actually. This is the brain-computer story people are currently obsessed with. Maybe this would be a better target?


    When I read Steve’s conclusion I wonder: why didn’t he see the massive other story that everyone is talking about on this same topic? I didn’t even go look for that story, it’s one of the top stories of the last few days.

  10. CKava says:

    Hey Sophie you wouldn’t happen to be cozying would you? I ask because you have a very similar posting/argument style. No worries if not, just wondering if I’m dealing with the same person.

    On the Russian stuff, I’m not promoting the Independent as a reliable source nor suggesting people ignore the issues with Russian oligarchs. I haven’t noticed any major changes in the Independent since it was bought over barring the print version being shut down but admittedly I haven’t looked deeply into the issue (because I already didn’t hold the paper in particular high esteem). I generally would rank it as slightly higher but not by much than the popular right wing tabloids.

    But that’s all besides the point I was making. I was just suggesting that the Independent’s bad science reporting discussed above is not unusual so using the articles is not as irrelevant as you suggest. A 1 minute google found me an article on the Daily Mail for instance covering the same research: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4421554/Mind-reading-device-invented-scientists.html

    As for the story you would have preferrred Steve to write about, what would it have changed about the argument he was making? Or are you just saying you would prefer him to write about that? If so fair enough everyone has their pet topics/preferences they’d like Steve to cover.

  11. Sophie says:

    Ouch, I hope you are sitting down for this one, hate to break it to you, the daily mail is such a poor source that Wikipedia doesn’t accept it for references anymore. Way to illustrate my entire point for me.


  12. mumadadd says:

    edamame — thanks for that; I was hoping you’d pick up that question. 🙂

  13. BillyJoe7 says:


    “Sophie you wouldn’t happen to be cozying would you? I ask because you have a very similar posting/argument style”

    In the other thread I asked if she was cozy’s mother, because she sounds like a somewhat more mature version of cozy.
    I didn’t get a reply either, so I’m suspecting there is some link between the two.

  14. CKava says:


    I thought your original point was that the Independent was such a marginal source/this story was not covered anywhere popular and hence it wasn’t even worth addressing. The Daily Mail is a terrible tabloid (that really isn’t new information to someone from the UK) however it is extremely popular. In the link you originally provided it is the 2nd most popular newspaper listed.

    So I’m not sure I ‘proved’ your original point unless you actually were saying these kind of science stories are common and appear in popular UK newspapers.

  15. CKava says:


    I never subscribed to any previous theory about cozying being/using sock puppets. Nor do I think there is any issue with someone deciding to change to a different username. I just noticed a very similar response style and so was curious given our previous unproductive exchanges. Having looked back at some of the recent discussion threads I would be willing to wager a large sum of money it’s the same person. But if she doesn’t want to answer that’s her perogative.

    As previously established cozying and I have very different views about the value of anonymity and I’ve absolutely no desire to reignite such debates. To each their own and all that.

    So to try and get back on topic: I think we all agree these kind of pieces are crappy and give a distorted impression of science the difference then lies in what the most appropriate response should be and where our energies are best spent to combat them. Reasonable people can disagree on such points.

  16. Sophie says:

    I made two points.
    They are denoted by numbers and parentheses. The first point refers to the legitimacy of the publication.
    You reinforced this point for me by finding an article covering the same research in another low quality publication, one so infamous that Wikipedia banned its use as a reference (with some exceptions).

    If you need me to explain this in detail, then you didn’t read the blog post or your own quoting of it. Steve is attacking the technical quality of two articles from the Indy. Problem is, the Indy is a dumpster owned by a Russian Oligarch. What do you find when you look into a dumpster?

    You could write a critique of the science articles in the Indy forever. It’s just a low quality, easy target to pick on. Personally I find it troubling that Steven is reading stuff in the Indy. What’s next, we discover that the science reporting over at the daily mail, Fox News, New York post, or the national enquirer isn’t good either?

  17. Sophie says:

    The KGB thing is real by all accounts. The Russian oligarch who purchased the independent worked in foreign intelligence, he was stationed in London working undercover as an economic attaché… you know who else in Russia is a former KGB officer?

    Whatever, it’s fine, don’t believe me, check out what he, himself, said about Putin and the world geopolitical stuff in general, during the Panama papers situation (he owns this paper too):

    He defends Putin. Claims the panama papers were not a big deal. He provides a false equivalence between Russian propaganda and American news institutions.

    If you want to learn more check out

    The Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the newspapers participating in the project that made the papers public, described the connections of various individuals listed in them to Russian president Vladimir Putin. They quoted Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman and US State Department documents saying that Russia is a “kleptocracy” and a “mafia state” respectively.


    also this ted talk is amazing:

  18. BillyJoe7 says:



    It doesn’t matter to me if someone wants to change their username and turn over a new leaf as it were. It’s not actually working very well, but nevermind. And, of course I didn’t mean that I thought Sophie was actually cozy’s mother, just that I thought she was trying to sound more mature with her change of username. Can’t fault her for trying but a giraffe can’t change her spots.

    I only hope it’s her real name rather than an allusion to…



  19. TheTentacles says:

    mumaddad & edamame: There are many ways the BMI software can decode the cortical activity, and not all would cause the same kinds of plastic changes. Indeed for some sorts of control very few neurons are necessary. One of the most mind-opening slides I’ve seen in Neuroscience talks over the last few years was from a talk by Eilon Vaadia — he was curious what the minimal limit of volitional information was in BMI control — could a monkey control just 1 electrode’s neural activity out of the hundred or so in the silicon probe. The monkey had to move a ball in 3D on a screen to a target to receive a reward, and every day one electrode was selected at random, and only an increase in activity of that multi–unit activity would move the 3D ball to the reward target. The monkey could easily find which of the 100 electrodes it needed to selectively increase the activity in ONLY 8 or so TRIALS! This suggests low dimensional BMI control can be fully dynamic and spatially very specific, and does not require extensive connectivity remapping. This was fairly low dimension control, but nevertheless remarkable.

    Vaadia has also done another super cool study. BMIs mostly decode using spike rates, but we are increasingly aware that spike timing, correlation and oscillatory synchrony carry information across brain networks. So on another study the monkey had to control the 30-50Hz low–gamma oscillatory activity and this was the control signal for the BMI. This is mind blowing, the spike rates are not modulated, but the monkey volitionally controlled the synchrony generating gamma oscillations! Again this is dynamics, not hebbian-like rewiring (gamma oscillations are controlled by inhibitory networks, not excitatory pyramidal cells). This has led to other groups using other oscillatory bands in the local field potential and confirming that multiple bands can be volitionally controlled.

    Inducing Gamma Oscillations and Precise Spike Synchrony by Operant Conditioning via Brain-Machine Interface — Neuron Open Access

    So brain regions (edamame is right, these are mainly only small portions of M1 normally) driving BMI’s do not necessarily need to remap or lose functionality, if the BMI decodes using functional dynamics.

    Motor cortex is fascinating because it is agranular (lacks a clear layer 4), and one argument is that this atypical regression is explained by its involvement of generating active inferences. If we can understand the motor cortex better, we will surely develop much more powerful movement BMIs

    Reflections on agranular architecture: predictive coding in the motor cortex — TINS

  20. Sophie says:

    Unlike a normal person, when a troll enters an online discussion, he is not seeking truth or clarification. He usually doesn’t even know how to debate in an intelligent manner. All he wants to do is inflict pain, ridicule, and humiliation on a targeted person.

    You are taken off guard and find yourself struggling to defend yourself, instead of exploring a topic.

    The main tool of the troll is accusation. It’s a form of psychological torture, to break you down by turning your words against you, twisting your statements and pounding away at one aspect of your viewpoint. No matter what you declare, the troll will question you as a person. Understand this immediately: it’s you as a person that they are attacking.

    Trolls are easy to recognize by their mode of operation. They will never compliment you for a smart statement, or admit that your question is difficult to respond to, or tone down the rhetoric with a smiley emoticon. Trolls accuse and insult. Trolls needle you relentlessly. They love to flame others. They enjoy causing grief, making another person feel bad. Trolls will quickly move from serious discussion about an issue to a sustained personal assault.


    My personal policy is when someone doesn’t mention a single thing you are actually talking about or the content of the article, but instead labels you and attacks.

    You can see this behavior all throughout these comments on this site. Just because someone happens to express an ideological perspective consistent with skepticism doesn’t mean they aren’t a troll.

    In the long term memory blog post comments, the guy screaming about magenta, in the discussion vs Ian Wardell, about consciousness is a troll. He went on largely ignored, no one really cared about what he was saying or responded to him but he wouldn’t stop talking about magenta and printing. That’s trolling. If you want to see what isn’t trolling, check out chipokki’s patient responses to Ian.

    (Also I’m not sure what’s happening or if this will work or if I’m banned but my stuff on the independent is awaiting moderation)

  21. mumadadd says:


    Are you f*cking kidding???? You’ve just hanged yourself with your own quote. Every discussion you enter gets derailed by your off-topic and irrelevant side avenues, accusations, and extended nitpicking he-said-she-said verbosity.

    Case in point, this thread. Both of your “denoted by numbers and parentheses” points are 100% irrelevant to the original post, and you contribute nothing except lambasting Steve Novella for not picking the targets you deem worthy and then forcing people to defend, in excruciating semantic detail, their responses to your off-base and hypercritical interpretations.

    You drain the productivity from the comments section and replace it with petty squabbles about nothing of significance.


  22. Sophie says:

    My points are not irrelevant go read what I wrote. Steve is attacking the technical quality of articles in a news source that is not known for publishing high quality science articles. It’s a trash source, so it’s not a surprise that the articles are trash.

    Second point is also relevant, no one reads the independent, so he’s attacking a low quality source that also no one cares about. He ignored the stories out there in news sources that people actually read or trust.

  23. mumadadd says:

    1. No he isn’t.
    2. Yes they do.

    Go read the original post again (or even just the Conclusion), then ask yourself what the significance of this particular outlet is within the context of the OP. Maybe you’ve never read any of SN’s many other posts on this topic, or listened to him talk about it on the SGU, in which case a quick re-read should clear up your confusion.

  24. Sophie says:

    Also about the other discussions, go check out the Alex Jones comments. It’s an indisputable fact that Steve speculated on the inner workings of Jones’ mind. That’s what the article is about. That’s what I commented on. I was right.

  25. mumadadd says:

    Oh my unfalsifiable god…

  26. mumadadd says:


    That is fascinating. I can’t pretend to have fully understood your post (being a sales-person rather than a neuroscientist), so I will avoid embarrassing myself by trying to respond with anything substantive. But if there are more posts from you and edamame I will read with interest.

  27. Sophie says:


    …then ask yourself what the significance of this particular outlet is within the context of the OP.

    Both the articles discussed in the blog post are from a crappy new source. One so terrible that it failed as a newspaper and is now only available online. One owned by a Russia Oligarch who is a former KGB foreign intelligence office. Who is on record defending Putin’s interests. Here is him commenting in another newspaper he owns:

    Steven also neglected the very current brain reading stories. Such as the Facebook brain reading announcement on developing new technology and the Elon Musk stories about the startup neuralink.

  28. Pete A says:

    The article on which we are commenting starts:

    Some Brain Science Hype

    Two recent neuroscience news items in The Independent represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism today and the tendency to overhype incremental studies. [my emphasis]

    Sophie stated on 21 Apr 2017 at 3:38 pm:

    Not to be a buzz kill twice in one week, but you know the Indy is owned by a Russian oligarch and former KGB officer right? It’s also not even in the top ten biggest U.K. Newspapers. …

    1) highly questionable, low quality source
    2) no one reads this stuff anyways
    Conclusion: weak target

    Non sequitur! The source is irrelevant, as its the popularity of the source, because the articles it contains “represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism today and the tendency to overhype incremental studies.”

    Good grief!

  29. Sophie says:

    Oh hey, welcome, I see you have stopped ranting about magenta. I would hardly call a tear down of two articles in a garbage source a definitive guide on the exact problems with science journalism. I would call it cherry picking some of the weakest possible targets in the entire field of mainstream science journalism. I guess this explains the little content on this site or on the SGU taking on serious targets and the obsession with nitpicking easy safe topics. Where’s the article about Alex Jones and his endorsement of Trump? Would that not be a relatively safe discussion to have prior to the election?

  30. mumadadd says:

    I guess this explains the little content on this site or on the SGU taking on serious targets and the obsession with nitpicking easy safe topics. Where’s the article about Alex Jones and his endorsement of Trump?

    Goddammit, Sophying, stop doing that! Steve Novella has said, explicitly and repeatedly, that he doesn’t want to get into politics except where it intersects with science. Go start your own blog/vlog/Twitter feed/whatever if you want to address these topics — stop telling people that they should have the exact same priorities as you, otherwise they are not fulfilling their own mission statement to a tee (even though they are).

    Your priorities are not the correct ones by default.

  31. Pete A says:

    “Oh hey, welcome, I see you have stopped ranting about magenta.”

    I’ve noticed that science isn’t your forte.

  32. Sophie says:

    When you write a blog post like this you aren’t immune to criticism. If you claim, like Steven does, that these two articles in the Indy are great examples of the problems with sciences journalism today you can get called on the details.

    If this was submitted as the thesis of a paper in a journalism class, Steven would fail. The Indy is not the definitive source of science journalism in the world today. When we examine it further we discover that it’s a failing newspaper, that it’s trash no one reads. If you wanted to make an argument highlighting the problems with science journalism you should reference the work that science journalists actually read, prestigious news sources and trusted journalists. This entire post is just Steven telling his fans: I looked in the dumpster again today, and would you believe it, I found some trash.

    To make the argument effective you would cite multiple news sources, finding the same problems within each. If you are trying to talk about the field of “science journalism” which Steven specifically references, then your attack should be on the scale of the entire field. These two articles are not indicative of the problems at the field level. They do not form an effective launch pad to extrapolate out and examine the entire field of science journalism. There are many articles in the legitimate news sources of the world that are spectacular examples of science journalism that do not have the problems the articles in the Indy have.

    The standards on this blog are so low. Just jump on over and go read Steven openly speculate into the nature of Alex Jones’ mind. Watch him misrepresent what a lawyer said in a custody battle and then when challenged, nitpick: I said “is he faking?” not “he is faking.”

    Read the title of the post, look for an argument countering the question in the title. The only one you will find within is mine.

  33. mumadadd says:

    “I guess this explains the little content on this site or on the SGU taking on serious targets and the obsession with nitpicking easy safe topics.”

    The infiltration of pseudoscience into medical practice seems to be SN’s main focus these days, and he’s good at it, if not the best. Easy target? Not political enough for you? Secondary targets include science (mis)communication and its associated infrastructure/mechanisms. Too easy?

    Want him to devote more time to Alex Jones and his endorsement of Trump?

    Is that just tough luck, or do you have a point..?

    Maybe you could buy a SN android and programme it to your wont? (This is one theory on his productivity) 😉

  34. Pete A says:

    “[Sophie] If you claim, like Steven does, that these two articles in the Indy are great examples of the problems with sciences journalism today you can get called on the details.”

    The article on which we are commenting starts:

    Some Brain Science Hype

    Two recent neuroscience news items in The Independent represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism today and the tendency to overhype incremental studies. [my emphasis]

    Nope, Dr Novella does not make that claim.

  35. mumadadd says:

    …and now I see that you would also like him to structure his posts to your satisfaction.

    To make the argument effective you would cite multiple news sources, finding the same problems within each. If you are trying to talk about the field of “science journalism” which Steven specifically references, then your attack should be on the scale of the entire field.



    Steve sure does have a hard-on for the Independent. And there is definitely no wider context to this particular post…

  36. mumadadd says:


    A task for you — concentrate all these separate examples into a single essay that addresses exactly the points that I value.

    Perhaps next you can do Science Based Medicine: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/

    I don’t care if you don’t know in advance what my judgement criteria are, or if you share them — just make it appeal to me.

  37. Sophie says:

    Pete A,
    You have to be kidding right? Look at my quote and the Steven quote you used. They directly support what I’m saying. This is textbook intellectual dishonesty or just ignorance.This is why people ignore everything you say when you rant about things like magenta.
    I said:
    “If you claim, like Steven does, that these two articles in the Indy are great examples of the problems with sciences journalism today you can get called on the details.”
    Steven said:
    “Two recent neuroscience news items in The Independent represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism today and the tendency to overhype incremental studies. ”

    He literally said: “represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism…” You put the emphasis on the wrong part! It should be on “exactly the problem with bad science,” Steven isn’t talking about a mild representation of science journalism in that sentence, he’s talking about the problems with the field, as represented in those two articles! What I said is not a mischaracterization of his words, if you think so, which is evident in you repeating this pathetic argument copy paste style twice now, then this is like the magenta rant all over again. And ill do what they did, just ignore you screaming at yourself in the mirror.

    It’s not about me and what I want. I didn’t say this is what he should do, I said this is what you would do to make an effective argument vs modern science journalism. I did this to illustrate how problematic and weak his claims are that these two articles extrapolate out to a field-level pattern. They don’t. I also absolutely love how no one has mentioned anything about the fact that the owner of this paper is a Russian Oligarch, former KGB intelligence officer, and is on record supporting Putin and claiming that one of the biggest investigative journalism stories of the decade, the panama papers, wasn’t a big deal. You are all hollow.

  38. mumadadd says:


    I can’t engage you further without becoming a hypocrite, so, for that reason, I’m out.

  39. Pete A says:

    Sophie, The only person who is ranting about magenta is you: three rants thus far in this comment thread.

  40. Lightnotheat says:

    Sophie, I often agree with your analyses of things, but jeez, you sure do seem to have a massive chip on your shoulder. So confrontational. In terms of style (not intellectual content), I see a lot of “Michael Egnorishness” here.

  41. Sophie says:

    We are all Negan Egnor.

  42. Pete A says:

    cozying, Sophie — perhaps rapidly becoming due, if not already overdue, for another nymshift.

  43. Sophie says:

    So did you go look at your quotes yet? Did you see how what you quoted supports my argument? Notice how I replied to what you said about my argument, but here you are ignoring that, to take little troll nibbles. You are a troll. You are not here to have an actual conversation. I don’t really have time to go investigate all these people you claim I am. Is this what you do, ignore what people actually say just to label them as someone you don’t like? Am I egnor? Or negan?

    Maybe I’m you, Peter, on another account that you made to fight with yourself because you were sick of yelling about magenta and having no one care to respond to you.

  44. CKava says:

    True to form, I see the comment section again being derailed into endless pedantic squabbles and accusations of misinterpretation. I wonder if this thread will reach its usual 100+ posts?


    You point me to your two original points and asked if I read them. And I can confirm I did. Did you? Or or the content of the subsequent posts you made?

    Point 2) in your original message was “no one reads this stuff anyways” and then again you emphasised in a follow up “…what I can’t understand is how there is no mention of something in a publication people actually read.” You also specifically pointed to a wikipedia article about UK newspaper circulation noting the Independent was “not even in the top ten biggest U.K. Newspapers.”

    I responded by pointing out that this kind of science reporting is not restricted to the Independent and finding (after 2 mins of googling) that the same story was reported in the Daily Mail, the 2nd most popular newspaper according to the link you provided.

    Thus counter to your claims many people do regularly read this kind of inaccurate science reporting. If you want more evidence about the prevalence of this kind of reporting- including its appearance in the Broadsheets (and another example of someone who finds it worthwhile to criticise) I suggest reading the archive over at Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog: http://www.badscience.net/index.php?s= or articles by Martin Robbins at the Guardian.

    I can see that the double-down spiral has begun but you are also wrong in your characterisation of the Independent. I am not a big fan, mainly because of the ideological bias of a number of its columnists, but I’m actually a bit of an outlier in my opinion. The Independent is left leaning and is usually categorised towards the higher quality end of the British newspaper scene. If you don’t believe me I suggest looking into independent media reports and/or quality checking sites: https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/the-independent/

    Your repeated characterisation of the Independent as if it is some Fox News, Daily Mail “dumpster” shows a lack of familiarity with the U.K. media scene. And again, this is coming from someone who is not a fan of the Independent.

  45. mumadadd says:


    Don’t go there..! Why do it, man?

  46. mumadadd says:

    Sorry, should be out when I’m out, not just outré.


  47. Pete A says:

    Sophie replies to me with a fourth, totally off-topic, rant about magenta.

  48. CKava says:

    mumadadd> Misguided optimism, an argumentative personality, and the fog of time.

  49. Sophie says:

    You attack one of my points.
    I explained how I had multiple points.
    You attack the one point again.
    And again.
    And again.

    You are a real champion aren’t you? Wait doesn’t this make you a troll as has been previously described? Isn’t that what the article was talking about, how trolls don’t stop hammering one point?

    The points in question:
    1) highly questionable, low quality source
    2) no one reads this stuff anyways
    Conclusion: weak target

    Your attack on 2 by finding links to the daily mail directly supports 1.

    Yes it counters 2 by finding some sources that people read. The problem is that the daily mail is such total trash that Wikipedia doesn’t even allow it as references.

    When you look in a dumpster you are very likely going to find trash. Indisputable fact. There will always be low quality journalism to be found in low quality failing newspapers. Fact.

    You keep ignoring 1 and the conclusion. It’s a weak target, the daily mail is an even weaker more pathetic target, it’s sad that you thought that was a reasonable link to share and argument to make. It just shows that you didn’t even read the conclusion of the second point.

    Steven wrote that these two articles in the Indy: “…represent exactly the problem with bad science journalism today…” as has been quoted multiple times. This statement is incorrect. It would be laughed at in any reasonable journalism class. The Indy is not the definitive source on science journalism, the problems found in these articles are not present in many of the science articles I read every day. I don’t read the Indy, no one does that’s why it’s recently gone out of print.

    Here’s a list of things you all repeatedly ignored:
    1 the owner of that rag is a former KGB intel officer who was stationed in London
    2 he’s a Russian Oligarch
    3 he’s on record defending Putin’s links to corruption and money laundering
    4 he’s on record speaking against the results of the panama papers
    5 low quality journalism will always be found in low quality sources
    6 two articles from a low quality source do not extrapolate out into an attack on the entire field of science journalism
    6 + finding problems in two articles from one obscure failing newspaper does not mean that these problems will be found in all other sources
    7 many legitimate news sources do not have the problems Steven found in this paper
    8 an attack on a field requires much more evidence at the field level, not just one news source
    9 See my critique of the Alex Jones post.

  50. mumadadd says:


    Misguided optimism, an argumentative personality, and the fog of time.

    Standard Saturday night.

  51. CKava says:

    Rather strong sense of deja vu but…


    If I didn’t know better your replies would give the impression that until very recently you had very little familiarity with the ‘Indy’ (or the broader UK media scene) and were just looking for an opportunity to chastise Steve after he dared to disagree with you in another thread. But as to your points…

    I didn’t ignore your point about quality in my replies. Read more thoroughly and you will see me specifically disagreeing with your assessment, despite not being fond of the Independent. I also didn’t ignore the points about the change of ownership, again re-read the previous replies. Nor did I recommend the Daily Mail, in fact I clearly stated the opposite, I mentioned it as an illustration that the the story was covered in more popular sources.

    I do however agree with you that there are good reasons to be concerned about the influence of Russian oligarch holding the financial reins of a British newspaper. But do you have any actual evidence that the Independent’s reporting bias or editorial stance has been notably affected by his ownership? And in particular do you have any evidence that the change has impacted the science reporting? I doubt it because from my scouring of independent media bias/fact checking sites the Independent still generally holds good reviews. If the Independent does display evidence of having become a pro-Russian mouthpiece then I’ll be with you on the barricades but as it stands I don’t see strong evidence that this is the case. Some relevant illustrations from the past 24 hours:

    Steve was just using the Independent stories as illustrations of broader issues in bad science reporting. They are. And despite your insistence, my long term experience with British media leaves me confident that the issues identified are not solely restricted to the tabloid press. They are undeniably more common there but again I urge you to read through Ben Goldacre’s or Martin Robbins archive if you want to find a litany of problematic science reporting in the British broadsheets (including the Guardian).

    But even if you were correct and all the bad science reporting was restricted to the tabloids and partisan media, it doesn’t follow that it would not be worthwhile criticising and fighting back against. Offering no counter-narrative or criticism of low quality, inaccurate reporting doesn’t seem like a winning strategy to me given recent experiences with Brexit and the US election. But… I recognise that there can be reasonable differences in opinion on things like strategy. There are reasonable arguments to be made on different sides about where efforts are best concentrated but it isn’t the black/white dichotomy you present wherein there is no reasonable stance outside the opinion you are advancing.

  52. Sophie says:

    There is so much noise in your reply. It’s hard to tell what you mean, you contradict yourself and ignore the content of your previous replies.I’ve tried locking on the problems in what you said and ignored. You claim to have addressed it but you didn’t. Go look at your original post with the daily mail link. What you said then, and what you are saying now is very different. You ignored essentially everything I said to attack one thing I said but you ignored everything else I said and the conclusion of my points. Fact.

    If you look at my first posts here it’s clear what I was saying. I was saying it’s a weak target. That’s also a fact. My two points, combined, lead to that conclusion. Disproving one but proving the other doesn’t mean I was wrong it means you are talking about something else that wasn’t logically equivalent.

    About the speculation into my motivations… maybe go read what I wrote about Alex Jones first. Steven openly speculated into the inner workings of Alex Jones’ mind, from some arguments his lawyer made in a custody case. Fact.

    Steve also mischaracterized what actually happened, he said that Jones admitted it was all an act in court, he did not. In fact, when he took the stand he said the opposite, that he believes in what he does but sometimes yes he plays characters. He compared himself to Stephen Colbert. That’s an indisputable fact.
    Go read his post. I only bring it up because it speaks to the over all standards here. Steve attacks safe targets his fans will agree with. About other people… trolls… Just go read the comments in the long term memory article. There’s only like 3 people who are actually talking to Ian Wardell, the rest are just trolls.

    What the Indy does 90% of the time is report factual things, they just repeat things from the associated press. That’s not what journalism is. Where’s the cutting edge investigative journalism? The pulitzers? Exclusive interviews? Expert analysis? That’s the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, right. Oh and they have problems right. They are still better than this trash owned by a Russian Oligarch and former KGB intelligence officer.

  53. TheTentacles says:

    Sophie, the fact you don’t understand the relevant point Pete A was making asking Ian Wardell about Magenta shows your own weakness of understanding of brain and mind. I initially tried to respond cordially to Ian (on the AI thread). I went to his site, read his blog posts where he uses simplistic and circular reasoning and was unconvinced. I’m new to this blog, and in a short time on the AI thread realised it was a waste of energy trying to discuss things with him (did he answer your questions asking for empirical tests of his ideas?). Go read up about the Philosophy of Perception, and why colour perception should be informative for Ian general point, but his breathtaking wilful ignorance of hundreds of years of colour research shows he is not someone who will humbly [re]consider his position.

    You are not British are you? The Independant used to be an excellent paper (defiantly not a tabloid) with some great journalists, and the slow-motion implosion caused by the seismic changes in print newspapers has be a tragedy to watch. But those quality of articles (or worse in the Daily Mail!) are available across the board in UK papers, tabloid or broadsheet and that is the greater tragedy here.

    That is fascinating. I can’t pretend to have fully understood your post (being a sales-person rather than a neuroscientist), so I will avoid embarrassing myself by trying to respond with anything substantive.

    mumaddad: well you asked a smart question doesn’t matter what your profession is, indeed non-specialist questions are often much more interesting!!! :beer: I wish instead of childish and myopic I-said you-said derailing from some here we could discuss things that *are* interesting on these posts… This blog is called Neurologica after all…

  54. Sophie says:

    Do not agree with you, not even a little.

    First: I do know the relevance of color in a consciousness discussion it relates to the difference between stimulus (light) and perception (color). It also leads to a debate over qualia. Which, believe it or not, is not a settled issue, many people think it’s a compelling argument others find it laughable.

    It would be fruitless to complicate Ian’s arguments with a discussion of qualia. Since Ian established himself as an dualist and went so far as to say consciousness could exist after death. I highly doubt it would be constructive to talk about magenta to someone like that, you are walking into a discussion about qualia that he would probably not agree with since he hates Dennett who is on record saying qualia do not exist. Pete also just wanted to verbally abuse Ian and repeat himself over and over even when it was clear no one was listening anymore.

    Second: Openly stating that you are ignorant of the details in the Ian discussion is a bad position to have, especially given the events.

    Yes Ian did respond to me. I asked: what would it take to convince you your theories of consciousness are wrong, what evidence would you find convincing.
    To which he said: nothing can prove me wrong, it’s like 2+2=4 I can’t be wrong or disproven.
    Everyone saw exactly the type of person we were dealing with at that point.

    Third: On the Indy, yep just skip right over literally everything else I said. Am I British? no. Do I have expertise in journalism? yes. Are you possibly biased and ignorant to the new reality over at the failing newspaper known as the Indy? Yes, quite possibly from your comment.

    Science journalism is a field level entity. To claim you have found problems with it, you need field level arguments and evidence. Two articles from a source known for bad science reporting, is not evidence. You demonstrated that the Indy is crap. I read many science articles everyday that do not have the problems Steve found in these two articles.

    Still no mention that the Indy is no longer independent. It was named that because it used to hold an independent political position, now its center left. It’s also owned by a former KGB intelligence officer and Russian Oligarch, hilarious how no one brings that up, time after time.
    This Oligarch is on record defending Putin’s money laundering operation and claiming that the panama papers were not a big deal. Let’s go, let’s have this discussion. Let’s talk about you all keep skipping over this fact. Please tell me how it’s a smart argument you are making by ignoring these details.

    90-95% of what the Indy does is just parrot other news sources. You can be a factual news site and still be a waste of everyone’s time. There’s no pulitizers, no famous experts working there, no serious investigative journalism, no exclusives, no correspondents on the ground in war zones. It’s trash.

    Fourth: Again talking about the daily mail. I wrote extensively about how my argument was two points with a conclusion. The daily mail example is not logically equivalent to what I was saying. It proves one of my points and disproves the other, the daily mail fits my conclusion though and is an even weaker target for skeptics, it’s such a weak pathetic source that Wikipedia doesn’t allow it for references. My point was the science journalism over at the Indy is trash. If you look in a dumpster like the Indy, you are going to find trash.
    Please do some homework before you come in spew your unsubstantiated opinions.

  55. Pete A says:

    “[Sophie] Pete also just wanted to verbally abuse Ian and repeat himself over and over even when it was clear no one was listening anymore.”


  56. yrdbrd says:

    Off topic. Is there a kill file plugin for WordPress commens sections?

  57. Sophie says:

    Pete A to Ian,

    Had you bothered to learn colour theory, and a few other aspects of modern science, then you wouldn’t keep making such a fool of yourself. Your endless straw-manning of science is hilarious.

    Thank you for clarifying your most highly-developed sense: absolute nonsense.

    Perhaps some of the lurkers might begin to understand the true depth of your absurdity.

    Your pathetic level of understanding of the branches of science which you decry is utterly disgraceful. You have absolutely no excuse — unless you have been, since your early childhood and still are, totally prohibited from playing with crayons, paints, and inks.

    Your ineptitude, combined with your abject refusal to update your opinions and your blog, provides nothing other than an endless source of amusement.

    How many of Ian’s ramblings… [Rhetorical question because Ian writes nothing other than fallacy-based rhetoric.]

    Please do not attempt to invoke quantum mechanics in your explanation(s) because you will make a mockery of only yourself…


    Ian, like most commenters, basically stopped responding to anything you said, days before you shut up. None of your fellow commenters, acknowledged that anything you said had anything significant to contribute to the discussion. Except maybe the tentacles who said some crap about you here in this thread.

    You went on and on, largely ignored by everyone. Ian only directly replied to you like twice. I showed up late and was mentioned more times. It’s not a popularity contest I know. But your behavior was (is) trollish.

  58. Pete A says:

    What are you going to do about?

  59. Pete A says:

    Correction: What are you going to do about it?

  60. Sophie says:

    What I’ve been doing. Compare and contrast your work, to the work of effective communicators for educational purposes. What other people do is much more effective and logical, what you do is trolling.

  61. Sophie says:

    From your writing it appears that you are motivated to hurt and humiliate people. Your chosen methods stand out as anomalous among your colleagues.

  62. Pete A says:

    None of my colleagues write comments on this website.

  63. hardnose says:

    Regarding the original topic:

    It is well known that technology exists to read minds, and to control minds. I heard about it at InfoWars.

  64. Pete A says:

    Sophie, None of my colleagues write comments on this website.

  65. Sophie says:

    Trolls repeat things endlessly without learning or adapting. It was demonstrated that colleague doesn’t just mean people you work with in real life. It means associate, which means friend, companion ally, people who come together for a common purpose.

    Ha I get it now. That’s an example of your sense of humor. Or it’s a trollish provocation.

  66. Pete A says:

    Sophie, Throughout the whole of my career I’ve had to be fully aware of who are, and who are not, my colleagues, associates, partners, etc. There are legal reasons for this, including: liability insurance; health and safety legislation; intellectual property; etc.

    You are not one of my colleagues, and neither is anyone else who comments on this website. I don’t care what your dictionary or thesaurus says. I’ve given you an opportunity to learn, but it’s up to you whether learn or you keep repeating the same mistake.

  67. Sophie says:

    The links are right there. This is what I said:

    From your writing it appears that you are motivated to hurt and humiliate people. Your chosen methods stand out as anomalous among your colleagues.

    Logically speaking, considering:
    1 the fact I don’t know who you are IRL
    2 the unprofessional nonformal medium we are expressing ourselves in
    3 the numerous references I made to how other commenters in the long term memory discussion flat out ignored you
    — —
    Given that, is it more likely, that I meant ‘colleague’ in the sense of a professional acquaintance, a fellow employee; or that I mean it in the sense of an associate, a fellow fighter, a friend, ally, comrade?

    There could be a language barrier here, I provided the links. There is one definition listed on that dictionary website, it says associate, associate used in that sense means what I described. You can have a colleague that isn’t someone you work with in a professional context.

    It’s unbelievable that this is your chosen method of combat. A tiny little fight about the meaning of one word. It’s trollish. It’s a distraction from what we were talking about. In order for you to make this argument, that I misused one word, you have to ignore literally everything else in that sentence, the words before it, the history of the conversation. You obviously knew what I meant to say, you are an intelligent person, you just deliberately read it that way to be a troll. It’s not even the first time you do something like this. Also notice how you have yet to mention anything about the numerous discussions that were being had here, before you showed up? Or say anything significant about the above article? You are a troll, you are here to hurt people and shut down discussions. This behavior defines what it means to be a troll.

  68. CKava says:


    If you want to talk about noise in replies, look to your own comments. Is there any thread that you are involved in that doesn’t end up 100s of posts long with the majority of them responding to your tangents, accusations and perceived slights?

    Your response summarising why you think Steve was wrong about Alex Jones does little to convince me that your original post was borne out of a sincere concern that the Independent’s science coverage is unrepresentative of the broader UK media rather than a penchant for exercising grudges in unrelated threads. How many grudges with other commenters have you raised in this comment thread alone?

    Your comments do not come across as someone with any expertise or familiarity with the British media scene. Rather they read like someone who has recently read a couple of articles after googling about the ‘Indy’ and feels the need to constantly repeat factoids to demonstrate your knowledge. No-one is disputing that the Independent was bought by a Russian oligarch and that this is potentially problematic- I’ve acknowledged it in several posts. The Independent falling from its former glory is a separate issue in regards to whether this kind of inaccurate hyperbolic science reporting is common across the UK media. It is. The Tentacles appears to be another poster who has experience with the UK media and I concur with their assessment, namely:

    …those quality of articles (or worse in the Daily Mail!) are available across the board in UK papers, tabloid or broadsheet and that is the greater tragedy here.

    Again, I recommend looking into Ben Goldacre and Martin Robbins archive if you want to find a legion of examples that stretch across the British media landscape. The Broadsheets are better than the tabloids but that shouldn’t be news to anyone and it still doesn’t make the Independent akin to a right wing tabloid. And that won’t change no matter how many times you repeat the words ‘Russian oligarch’ and ‘KGB intelligence officer’.

    Finally, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that whatever you subjectively declare to be an ‘indisputable fact’ or true is accurate. That tactic doesn’t work anymore when you do it, than when president Trump does it. I have read the other threads you refer to you and your summaries do not appear accurate, they just represent your interpretation.

  69. Sophie says:

    Again so much noise. Clearly we have different ideas about what it means to meaningfully engage on a topic. When I said that you and others, did not comment on the Russian Oligarch KGB thing I did not mean: I wanted you to simply write the words back to me with a minor addition. I’m referring to analysis.

    Interestingly however, many commenters replied to me, but didn’t even mention the words: Oligarch or KGB at all; or with a slight minor addition, which is all you did. You have also repeatedly mischaracterized your own words. You actually have never seriously examined the Russian Oligarch KGB issue. Your first reply to me didn’t mention it and your subsequent replies only did because I requested it. You simply just referenced it and provided no substance. Now here you are claiming that you have: “… acknowledged it in several posts,” which is hilarious because you are pointing to a non existent commentary that you never offered. One liners about financial backing can’t be taken seriously. This is hollow intellectualism at its finest.

    The past has a great impact on the future. How someone acts in a simultaneous or a recent thread can predict, contextualize and help explain their future behavior. For example in the recent article about melting ice, one commenter just updated, copy pasted, and essentially imported his previous climate denial arguments from another comment thread on another article. It would be foolish to assume he was new person and forget his comments from hours ago on another thread. Your grudge theory and attempts to discover the inner workings of my mind are therefore nonsense.

    Some more hollow intellectualism is present in the last bit. You claim my “indisputable facts” are subjective. But provide no evidence. “You are wrong! But I won’t bother explaining why, I’m too smart for that.”

    I know I’ve said it many times, I’ll say it again: it’s an indisputable fact that Steven openly speculated into the nature of Alex Jones’ mind based on testimony and arguments from a custody battle. Go ahead prove me wrong.
    Other facts:
    -the Indy is a failing newspaper that is unpopular
    -quality science journalism is not typically found in low quality failing newspapers
    -two articles from one unpopular newspaper do not form an effective basis to attack the entire field of science journalism.
    -the Indy was bought by a former intel officer and Oligarch, and no one here has provided a serious examination of this issue. Most have ignored this actually.

  70. TheTentacles says:

    Sophie: It would be fruitless to complicate Ian’s arguments with a discussion of qualia.

    It is Ian who uses the subjective continuity of consciousness as his prima facia argument for his position. It is the first statement which drives his circular reasoning. Pete A has apparently been discussing longer than you or I with Ian, and Ian’s refusal to answer a direct epistemological question about subjective conscious experience was clearly relevant (well or as irrelevant as everything else on threads nominally to do with memory and artificial intelligence, but cross-thread continuity seems par for the course here). Now you can question the strategy of repeatedly asking Ian a question he refuses to answer properly (though he did finally answer it, utterly wrongly), but I for one found his refusal informative to understanding his motivated reasoning.

    I really was not arguing with you regarding The Independent, I just wanted to provide a personal historical dimension that is as relevant to the OP as any other point. The Independent used to be a very well regarded paper, and I for one probably have a subconscious bias that [wrongly] still weights the Independent more favourably than other tabloids. Anyway I’m a scientist and not an academic specialist on Journalism, so probably get more annoyed by poor reporting which I do experience as being endemic across popular news sources.

    Though I rarely read tabloids so perhaps I have a sampling bias towards “respected” newspapers misrepresenting science?

    What would be somewhat more interesting is instead of just arguing your opinion vs. everyone else’s opinion, can you find any academic studies looking at scientific misrepresentation, and can you support or refute your point with evidence? Could you argue the case that there is no problem with science journalism overall?

  71. Pete A says:


    Sophie is also unfamiliar with British English and UK Law. In her link to the US definition of “colleague” it gives “associate” whereas further down the page it gives a British definition: “a fellow worker or member of a staff, department, profession, etc.”

  72. Sophie says:

    This site is written in American English.
    Steve is American.
    Everyone on the SGU is American and speaks fluent American English.
    This site is physically based in servers in America.
    I am American.
    Therefore yes I used the American definition of the word.

  73. Pete A says:

    Well, now you know that I am not American and that I use the English definitions of words and English law.

  74. Sophie says:

    See previous explaination on American English. This isn’t a British website. It’s not written using your language. It’s you who needs to adapt and be flexible, not I. When I go and read British sources I don’t assume they are misusing words. I don’t keep up a pathetic argument over the meaning of one word for days. If I was provided with links to dictionary definitions and explanations for what the British person meant, I would drop my nonsensical claims.

  75. Pete A says:

    Sophie, I cannot make important statements using American definitions that are incorrect under my jurisdiction.

    By the way, the location of a website server is totally irrelevant.

    You keep making claims that are not backed by evidence. I corrected your claim with one sentence: “None of my colleagues write comments on this website.” It is you who owns the burden of proof for your claims; I do not own the burden of proving you wrong.

    Claiming that I’m a troll then referring to other commentators on this website as my colleagues is insulting them, not me.

    TheTentacles made important points about my interactions with Ian. I’ve given Ian more than enough chances to correct his misrepresentations of the relevant science. Each time he regurgitates them I shall repeat my one simple question that abjectly proves him wrong. I do it for the benefit of readers who could be easily misguided by his wilful bastardization of science.

    Now, if you wish to continue with your petty arguments then pick on someone who gives a sh1t because I certainly don’t. If, instead, you wish to apologise and make an effort to work as a team then I would be delighted.

  76. Sophie says:

    Lol. I’m going to apologize to the troll? Hahaha. You should really go read that guide on how to spot a troll. It’s like you are a manifestion of everything it is about. You won’t shut up about little squabbles and pathetic claims. Attempting to argue that American English and it’s definitions have no place on a blog written by an American are just your latest utter failures.

    I would also like to mention that you have still yet to mention a single thing about the blog post above or any of the discussions that were being had before your arrival here. If you read the guide on how to spot a troll, you would see that this is a pattern of predictable behavior by people who aren’t here to contribute but just to attack and suppress.

  77. BillyJoe7 says:

    Authors and commenters here need to realise that they are speaking to everyone, not just residents of the USA. I haven’t seen SN make this mistake, but authors and commenters at SBM regular say things like “now that Winter is approaching” when that is true only for the northern hemisphere; or “there were 40,000 deaths from the flu this year”, when that statistic applies only to North America. There are commenters here from all over the world. Please don’t be so unthinkingly parochial.

  78. Sophie says:

    The Guardian has some problems. I never once said it did not. It is still a veritable god-like entity compared to the Indy. The article I linked on mind reading technology doesn’t have the technical errors in it. They reported accurately what was being announced by Facebook and others. Many science and technology stories I read from there on a regular basis do not have any of the problems Steven found. Problems that are apparently so endemic in the field of science journalism. This is problematic to say the least.

    The Guardian is also much more popular than the Indy, so therefore there is going to be more articles critiquing the quality of its journalism. The fact that there isn’t tons of easy-to-point-to articles exposing the Indy doesn’t mean much, other than no one reads it and therefore no one talks about it. Ironically the best summaries I can find about the Indy are found in the Guardian.

    This is just an availability bias. If you come to the conclusion that the Indy is better than the Guardian, because Ben Goldacre writes about the problems with the Guardian, then you are coming to a false conclusion based simply on the availability of evidence.

    Someone needs to go and learn about recent history, the Guardian has published stories that have rocked the entire world. They have real journalists on the ground all over the world. They have every significant industry award, a legendary history and they aren’t owned by a Russian Oligarch and former KGB intel officer.

    CKava, the following represents the sum total of your comments on the Russian Oligarch-KGB perspective to this discussion about the legitimacy of the Indy:

    On the Russian stuff, I’m not promoting the Independent as a reliable source nor suggesting people ignore the issues with Russian oligarchs.
    …there are good reasons to be concerned about the influence of Russian oligarch holding the financial reins of a British newspaper.
    …No-one is disputing that the Independent was bought by a Russian oligarch and that this is potentially problematic- I’ve acknowledged it in several posts.

    You think that’s a realistic analysis of what I said? I’ve posted links to things that this former KBG intel officer Lebedev has said about Putin’s money laundering operation, he openly defends it and minimizes the importance of the panama papers.

    The Panama papers led to the ouster of presidents and toppled empires. It’s one of the most significant accomplishments in investigative journalism ever, the Guardian was a major player btw. Drove the narrative, published stories from the goldmine, known as the Panama papers, that rocked the world. Maybe you heard about it? Or PRISM? Maybe you saw the movie Snowden, did you know that’s based on a real story The Guardian took part in? Yeah it’s like totally rad…

    Here’s Lebedev defending Putin in late 2014:

    By this point Putin was established as an autocrat, Russia was already being studied in political science classes as a case study of a failed modern democracy, Putin was ‘president’ for 15ish years by this point. He real news companies and passed laws severely damaging the rest. Like Lebedev, Putin is also a former KGB officer.

    Alexander Lebedev also attempted to put himself in a seat of power in the Sochi Olympics corruption scandal. He was forced out for political reasons, and what is probably a made up story about campaign donations to push him aside. Either way he attempted to run for mayor of Sochi. This is too much to explain here and so little is available in English. I will not translate. Here’s a summary:

    Essentially every political endeavor in Russia is, and has been for a while, corrupt. Not like how people causally throw the word around here, like claiming Hillary Clinton is corrupt, actual documented large-scale mafia-style corruption.

    Sochi was the most expensive Winter Olympics on record. The previous games cost under 2 billlion, just four years later the Sochi games cost over 50 billion. You can find numerous articles all over explaining in detail the corruption at the Sochi games.

    Alexander Lebedev tried really hard to become mayor right before the games. Hard to imagine why, in a country so filled with gangster level corruption, he would attempt to do so. Other than for profit. He had no prior political experience. He is not native to the area, he grew up 1600km away. The Sochi olympics were so bad, some of my favorite athletes refused to compete because the courses were constructed so poorly they would routinely break under the weight of the snow.

    As to the quality of the Indy itself. Most of what they do, is just report factual details, this is not what journalism is. Since it was purchased in 2010 by Lebedev it has had no impact on anything anyone cares about. It has no war correspondents on the ground in any of the many different conflict zones around the world. No award winning photographers. No exclusive interviews, investigative journalism, significant original content etc. Not only has it not moved forward but it’s taken steps back and gone out of print. You might think this is meaningless in the digital age, but let me assure you it’s not a good sign, the Indy lost money consistently for decades, the new owners had to create a tabloid spin off to justify keeping the Indy at all. Print newspapers make hundreds on millions, digital newspapers make tens of millions.

    Also the sites Ckava mentioned that supposedly rank the legitimacy of newspapers are not real sources, one is run by people voting, we can’t even see who pays for that website. It’s apparently privately run by one Dave Van Zandt, someone who I’m sure is brilliant, but he’s a lawyer and college president with no expertise in journalism. The sites are also ranked by political bias and not by some objective measure of reliability. Just click any link and try to find the data that got them to the conclusion they present. It is nonexistent. Fox News is biased for sure, but the vast majority of the content on their website and channel is factual, I highly doubt that the category of “mixed” is justified. Especially when you see other sources that have the same “mixed” credibility ranking as Fox News on that ranking website.

    It’s so easy to forensically see what CKava did. All he did was google if the Indy was legit, and then he clicked the first few links. It’s sad.

    Certainly the Indy was never mentioned in any journalism class I took. I have also never seen it mentioned as an example of quality science reporting by any of the science communicators I follow.

    The idea that you can write a teardown of the entire field of science journalism, by finding problems in two articles from this failing newspaper is pretty much nonsense. There’s a reason Ben Goldacre talks about the Guardian, journalists all over the world read the Guardian. Famous award winning journalists work there. Its stories have a significant impact on the world.

  79. CKava says:

    Jeepers Sophie,

    You really do double down really hard! Especially on your use of factoids. The Guardian reported on the Panama papers- fascinating! Next you will be telling me the Independent is owned by a Russian oligarch and former KGB officer, oh wait I see those did make the cut again. Great, I needed another reminder.

    And as for those quotes of mine you reference- how dare you cut them off without quoting the full passage? Such a ridiculous tactic unbefitting of someone claiming to be a true skeptic. In full context you can clearly see that I am not disputing that the Independent is owned by a Russian oligarch (and former KGB officer!) or that this is problematic but that it is irrelevant to the arguments I was making. It’s just sad. Incontrovertible fact. Get rekt. I’m rad.

    Ahem… sorry. Not sure what came over me there! 😉 Channeling Trump or something!

    Most of your arguments are addressed by my previous posts but two additional points:

    1. I linked you to a website with an easy to read graphic display and one word summary about accuracy of reporting as an illustration, not to provide an exhaustive reference list. This concept of offering an illustration seems to be causing you a lot of difficulty in this thread but note that is why I suggested you look into independent media reports and/or quality checking sites yourself “if you don’t believe me”. Since you have ‘expertise’ in journalism and a deep familiarity with the Independent it shouldn’t be too hard for you to locate relevant sources. And btw I recommend looking beyond the personal history of the paper’s most recent financier- just a suggestion!

    2. The Independent was probably never mentioned in your journalism classes because you took them in the US! The only British papers that have made it into the general US’ consciousness seem to be the Guardian, the BBC, and the right wing Tabloids. And from your comments in this thread it seems pretty clear that you are only just discovering things that all UK people know- for instance, that the Daily Mail is a low quality tabloid! That’s understandable given that you don’t live in the UK (the SGU hosts also from time to time get things wrong when discussing the British press) but what’s remarkable is your need to present yourself as an authority, when you are quite transparently not. I don’t need to google to form an impression of the Independent and its quality because I lived in the UK and have read plenty of articles in the Independent over its run. It remains a paper I don’t hold in particular high esteem but which is also not the ‘trash’ you have represented in service of your argument. Oh and btw Ben Goldacre has commented on many stories in the Independent (and the Daily Mail) too, so following your logic that must make them very important and high quality sources worthy of criticism.

    I think that’s all I’ve got to say on this burning issue so I’ll leave my posts above to speak for themselves and attempt to exit from yet another endless self-referential grudge spiral.

  80. Sophie says:

    See now this is a pattern.
    1 You claim you took down my initial position: that the Indy was a weak target, because it was a trashy source that no one reads; by posting a link to an even worse newspaper. The daily mail.
    2 I call you on it. I say actually that doesn’t disprove or challenge my argument it’s not even logically equivalent, the daily mail is so crap it’s not even allowed on Wikipedia anymore.
    3 You claim, well I wasn’t saying the daily mail was good, but it challenges what you said. (It does not, its not logically equivalent to what I was saying at all).

    1 Now you claim the Indy is legit as you can prove it with links.
    2 I say actually those websites are not legit sources they are the results of people voting online, it’s privately owned and there is no explanation for how they come to their conclusions about any particular news source. See the Fox News page. Just says mixed credibility, no sources no explanation no nothing.
    3 you claim that the links you provided may have not been legit or good sources. But they still challenge my points. (They do not)

    It’s not on me to argue every little thing you want me to argue. I got my points across. You did not address them. One liners about the KGB and mirroring what I said is not a educated conversation. I would bet that you had no idea who Lebedev was before this conversation. Or just how unpopular and failing the Indy really was.

    We discussed British journalistic sources pretty extensively in my classes, the reason the Indy never came up is because it’s literally the most unpopular, unimportant, worst read, failing newspaper. It’s been losing money since it came into existence in the 80s. The Guardian and other British sources were discussed because they are significant players in the world.

    The Indy is like a news feed. Just little summaries of articles written elsewhere. It’s not a newspaper in the same sense the Guardian or the NYT is a newspaper. It’s a young upstart that tried to cash in on being politically independent in the late 80s and failed. Its not even politically independent anymore.

    You seem to be throwing the word tabloid around a lot. Are you unaware that the Indy started as a broadsheet but changed its print format to tabloid as well? In 2003?

  81. Sophie says:

    There is still to this day not a single discussion about how we all feel about a Russian Oligarch and former KGB intelligence officer, owning a British newspaper. No one even tried to have this discussion. Guess I’ll go back to watching citizen Kane

  82. Sophie says:

    CKava’s technique,
    1 make a false claim
    2 ignore the challenge to that false claim
    3 repeat the false claim as evidence
    4 ignore 95% of what your opponent has to say
    5 (see step 1)

  83. Sophie says:

    Anyone with a journalism background would just laugh in your face for these claims you make. Comparing the Indy to The Guardian is like comparing The New England Journal of Medicine to the Journal of Cosmology.

    (The NEJM has a proud history spanning multiple centuries. The Guardian is closing in on two hundred years since its inception. The NEJM is hugely influential in its field. As is the Guardian. The journal of Cosmology is a joke, that no one in the field takes seriously, much like how the science journalists of tomorrow are not studying the science section of the Indy. The Indy is failing publication that has recently gone out of print, it is also just a few decades old, and has spent the majority of that time slowly bleeding to death. )

    Yes they are both technically “peer reviewed scientific journals.” They both publish articles that receive huge amounts of criticism from experts. You can find many more critiques of the NEJM than you can of the journal of cosmology. Articles published in the NEJM routinely are over hyped and challenged. You can even argue that that it has a tendency to sensationalize discoveries and publishes papers of questionable experimental results. You can do the same with Nature or Science. As many of the results they publish are later discovered to be wrong.
    — — —
    If someone challenged the legitimacy of the Journal of Cosmology, and you brought up the critiques that the NEJM receives, you would be openly mocked and for good reason. It would be a foolish and illogical comparison to make, a mistake only a non expert would make.

  84. BillyJoe7 says:


    I’ve said it of cozy, and I’ll say if of you…..Sophie, you’re incredible!

  85. Sophie says:

    I’m also right. My original comment here was about how the Indy is a weak target. CKava found a similar article from the daily mail, an even weaker target, and touted it as a counter argument.

    I made the point that the Indy and the daily mail are both weak targets, he went nuts talking about how the Guardian has all these negative critiques and can’t be trusted. Meanwhile the link I posted to the Guardian, shows an article about mind-reading technology that has none of the problems Steven found.

    Comparing a 31 year old failing paper, with an almost 200 year old legendary newspaper like the Guardian is so sad.

    This is to say nothing of all the ad hominems and illogical crap he had to say. Like all the times he claimed he analyzed the KGB-Oligarch issue, and he was just pointing to a nonexistent commentary he never provided. Or how my “indisputable facts” are all subjective just like Trump’s, but even when requested, he couldn’t even offer one explanation of why one of them was wrong.

  86. CKava says:


    No additional arguments to make (anyone interested can consult my previous posts to see my actual views) but just one point of clarification.

    I don’t remember ever arguing that the Guardian can’t be trusted. While I don’t hold the deep reverence you seem to, the Guardian is actually one of my preferred news sources and generally I find the reporting to be high quality (despite some wacky opinion pieces).

    My point was simply that the Guardian’s science reporting does (occasionally) contain the same kind of inaccurate/hyperbolic reporting Steve addresses above. I pointed you to Ben Goldacre and Martin Robbins archives not to tear down the ‘legendary’ reputation of the Guardian but to illustrate that the issues Steve discusses are more broadly relevant than you suggest. And again as I already mentioned, both Ben Goldacre and Martin Robbins do not focus exclusively on issues with the Guardian they (like Steve) also have discussed problematic articles in the Independent and the right wing tabloids.

    So in short don’t cancel your Guardian subscription, if you have one! 😉

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