November 09, 2012

The nine circles of Scientific Hell

A fun reworking of Dante's Inferno — from Perspectives on Psychological Science:

The Nine Circles of Scientific Hell
In the spirit of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, this paper takes a humorous look at the fate that awaits scientists who sin against best practice.

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri is a classic of world literature and was the first major work in the Italian language. In the first book of the trilogy, Inferno, Dante offers a tour of the nine increasingly horrible levels of Hell, in which the wicked are tormented forever in ways corresponding to their sins. But Dante lived before the era of modern science. Perhaps it is necessary to update his scheme to explain what happens to those guilty of various scientific sins, ranging from the commonplace to the shocking.

Dante’s Hell had a place for everyone, and it was only Christ’s intervention that saved anyone from it; even “good” people went to Hell, because everyone sinned, and sins were still sins however ubiquitous they were. Likewise, very few scientists (the author is certainly not one of them) would be able to avoid being condemned to some level of this Inferno… but is that an excuse?

First Circle: Limbo
The uppermost circle is not a place of punishment so much as regret. Those who have committed no scientific sins per se, but who have turned a blind eye to them, or encouraged sinners through the awarding of grants, spend eternity on top of this barren mountain, watching the carnage below and reflecting on how they are partially responsible…

Second Circle: Overselling
This circle is reserved for those who exaggerated the importance of their work in order to get grants or write better papers. Sinners are trapped in a huge pit, up to their necks in horrible sludge. Each sinner is provided with the single rung of a ladder, labeled “The Way Out—Scientists Crack Problem of Second Circle of Hell.”

Third Circle: Post-Hoc Storytelling
Sinners condemned to this circle must constantly dodge the attacks of demons armed with bows and arrows, firing more or less at random. Every time someone is hit in some part of their body, a demon proceeds to explain at length that it was aiming for that exact spot all along.

Fourth Circle: p Value Fishing
Those who tried every statistical test in the book until they got a p value less than .05 find themselves here, in an enormous lake of murky water. Sinners sit on boats and must fish for their food. Fortunately, they have a huge selection of different fishing rods and nets (brand names include Bayes, Student, Spearman, and many more). Unfortunately, only one in 20 fish are edible, so the sinners in this circle are constantly hungry.

Heh - more at the site… Posted by DaveH at November 9, 2012 09:23 PM
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