Davies’ Law

Davies’ Law: “As a discussion about scientific rigour continues, the probability of someone mentioning Andrew Wakefield’s MMR study approaches 1”.  A friend of a friend (I love Facebook right now) proposed this today as a variation on Godwin’s Law.  Godwin’s Law states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”  I was particularly taken by Davies’ Law because this afternoon I was part of just such conversation.  For the record, I think it took at least oohh… five minutes for Andrew Wakefield’s study to be invoked.

The conversation also went over some of the ground in my last post.  A senior social scientist at Southampton was extolling the virtues of medical journals (well, OK, the BMJ) because they take peer review and ‘first publication’ so seriously.  (By ‘first publication’, I mean that the BMJ will only publish work that has appeared nowhere else – not even as a working paper.  This is odd in the world of social science, where working papers quite frequently precede a final publication.)

According to Wikipedia, Godwin says that he coined the phrase to make people think a little harder about what the Holocaust actually was and what it means.  Of course, Davies’ Law is a bit more flippant than that, but it’s still worth thinking hard about what research is worth doing, how it can best be done and how it should best be published.  It’s very hard to be as bad as Andrew Wakefield (after all, one could argue that he effectively assaulted small children) but it’s much easier to burnish a results table, skew a literature review or rush a peer review.

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