The parable of fighting off crocodile attacks with improved BB-guns and fly-swatters

Once upon a time, there was a whole country that was under constant attack by hordes of 15 foot long crocodiles. Every day, hundreds more people were killed by these crocodiles. Everybody had about a 25% chance of being attacked and seriously hurt. A fifth of every new generation of people died by crocodile.

Fortunately, many excellent people searched for methods of fighting off crocodiles. One weapon they invented was the BB-gun. Using massed attacks by hundreds of BB-guns, firing simultaneously, some people's lives were saved, or at least prolonged. Another fearsome anti- crocodile weapon was the fly-swatter. When an attacking crocodile was hit by thousands of fly-swatters, sometimes a person could survive attack. New and more lethal forms of fly-swatters were constantly being developed. People spent years learning fly-swatter-judo, to improve their ability to fight crocodiles. Exciting breakthroughs were made using rolled-up newspapers as a new kind of fly-swatter. Researchers spent unlimited funds trying out how to roll up other flexible sheets, in addition to newspapers. It was an exciting period in the battle against crocodile attacks.

One of the most effective new methods was for people venturing into crocodile territory to eat lots of poisonous mushrooms; then, if they were eaten by a crocodile, the crocodile would be poisoned and die. On the negative side, the people would also be poisoned and die, even if they didn't encounter a crocodile; but this was counter-balanced by the fact that the method worked equally well if people were eaten by Grizzly Bears or Giant Pythons, or anything else. Of course, we can't expect any method to be perfect.

An exciting cutting-edge field of Anti-Crocodile Research ("ACR") was to isolate DNA from crocodiles, amplify sequences with PCR, and either sequence the DNA or use restriction endonucleases and electrophoresis to make "DNA finger-prints". Advanced new statistical methods (like Least Squares quantification of proportionality) were used to search for evidence that some crocodiles (with certain patterns of DNA sequences) were more vulnerable to BB guns, and crocodiles with other genomes might be more susceptible to attack with fly-swatters or rolled up newspapers.

Several collaborating researchers reported finding consistent correlations, based upon which it was possible to predict which crocodiles could most effectively be fought-off with fly-swatters, and which crocodiles were more susceptible to BB-guns, not to mention poisonous mushrooms. Finding molecular methods for predicting Differential Crocodile Vulnerability ("DCV") was described by an insightful weekly TV news program as being "the holy grail of Anti-Crocodile Research" ("ACR").

Subsequently, it turned out that this research was fraudulent. (Despite setting records for the most co-authorships on each retracted paper!) This has been a huge setback for an exciting new approach to improving the effectiveness of BB-guns, fly-swatters and poisonous mushrooms. The main experimenter was forced to resign, and has moved to the Moon Colony, or somewhere.




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