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Insights Blaming Government for Teacher and Scientist Failures in Integrity - Comments

  1. Oct 11, 2016 #26
    I hope so. We did not have a hard look at Tulane, because it is a private school (expensive), and none of our teens or students we've mentored have expressed an interest or asked for our recommendation on it. Our A list schools in the SE US are:

    Rice, Texas A&M, UGA, GA Tech, Clemson, and U Florida.

    We have not had a hard look at Vandy, Tulane, or a few other schools that would probably make the A list if we did.

    But we have also noted a tremendous range of quality in the B list schools. A 3.9 GPA from the best B list schools might be preferred to a 2.5 GPA from some of the A list schools.
     
  2. Oct 11, 2016 #27

    russ_watters

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    Yes, I agree it is an important subject/problem. I suspect that paper hasn't been published because while it is written in the format of a scientific paper, it isn't one. Have you considered re-packaging it as an article and submitting it to, say, The Economist?

    Following your line of reasoning (following the money), it makes a lot of sense when you look at college campuses and see dining halls, stadiums, student centers and gyms that are spectacular and classroom buildings that are crap. This clearly indicates that according to the school, providing a quality education just isn't what college is for: college is for the social experience.

    So who's fault is that? While it is tempting to blame it on the schools because they pick where to spend their money, so their control is direct, I don't think that's the right target: the customer is always right, which means that if the customer is wrong, it's the customer's fault. Schools that fail to provide what the customer asks for lose customers.

    Most kids are <18 when selecting a college to attend and <20 when selecting a major. These first meaningful decisions they make as adults are biggies and most choose poorly. So for that, I put the blame squarely on their parents. They should be pounding-in to their kids for ten years the end-game of all of that school up to the high school diploma: the goal is to pick a college and major that prepare you for a quality job. And they should do everything possible to not allow the kid to make the wrong decisions.

    Parents have a huge influence, whether they exercise it directly or not. From having the same religion, teen pregnancy, drug use/crime, kids take after their parents. My dad is/was an engineer/businessman. So I almost didn't even need to be taught what to do: the "right" path was there for me to see every day. But given that more and more people are going to college - while their parents didn't - there is an expectations gap caused by lack of a baseline to follow and failure of parents to teach their kids what path they should be taking. To put it succinctly: I think they think the endgame is getting into college, not what they will do once they get there. Because that is the exact point where their path diverges from their parents.
     
  3. Oct 11, 2016 #28

    russ_watters

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    Maybe I missed your point or rhetorical, but the "actual harm" is the personal debt with nothing to show for it but the memories. Society may actually work better this way, maintaining stratification against artificial leveling, but for the individual who finds themself at age 30 with a hundred thousand dollars in debt and still paying the bills bartending, it's a tragedy.
     
  4. Oct 11, 2016 #29

    Fervent Freyja

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    A question that’s been on my mind for a while? Does micromanaging students during courses, in order to prevent cheating, negatively affect learning outcomes? If so, how much? Could streamlining (although effective) the courses to the degree we see today contribute to higher rates of cheating, as it gives them wider assess to cheating methods? Is there too much emphasis on the act of cheating and too little about their attitude towards learning? Maybe I’m too old-fashioned on the matter, but for many subjects I would rather have a textbook thrown at me, show up for lectures, actually discuss the material, have opportunities to do some actual personalized WORK, and be told to prepare for the worst at exams. Many courses today spent a lot of time hand-holding and the number of graded assignments for one course can be insane. Does making it obvious that students can’t be trusted actually discourage them from learning? Instead of nitpicking the topic of their undergraduate thesis, what might be delivered if a little more trust in the student was shown?

    I don’t believe that talking about one incident of a student cheating is assessing the whole picture here, nor can it be blamed totally on one entity. Sure, educators and institutions can be a part of it, but even maintaining excellent integrity at all levels doesn't address the reason a person cheats. All that does is address one incident. Cheating is a result of an attitude that likely occurs with other opportunistic behaviors that aren’t against policy or often border in a gray area. An opportunistic attitude can be thought to occur with a long-running set of behaviors that manifest and become cognitive habits far before they make it to post-secondary education. Habits are patterns and patterns prevail, this should be easier to predict in a student than it currently is- is there no way to measure the risk for new students? I believe the problem isn’t in a student cheating once, but a true cheater, a person with an opportunistic attitude, can be said to consistently partake in a host of opportunistic behaviors, including cheating, over a long period of time. I imagine there is a lot of forethought into some of the methods that are used. That seems like a lot of energy and stress. Do they not know any other way?

    To explain why I believe this, take for instance, that you prepare balance and income statements for a multi-million dollar company and are responsible for addressing discrepancies therein. There are always losses, but there are many patterns that you need to worry about that can lead to further loss; namely, an employee that steals usually commits many more subtle, less damaging acts of opportunism than the ultimate number of crimes. They often leave patterns that show the attitude, even on record. Out of numerous departments and hundreds of employees, you notice an associate is turning in figures very different than the others. Odd, upon further inspection, you see the itemized lists are also reflecting very different prices than it should, but only off the most by $10. You don’t see a real loss or gain. You find that the associate was using a keyboard that had a malfunctioning # 9 at the keypad and had been rounding figures. At first, it seems like an innocent, but lazy mistake, right? However, why not use the other 9 on the keyboard? Why wait weeks, never doing anything about it? What does that tell you about the employee- their attitude, their habits? You watch them more closely and find that they commit more opportunistic behaviors, and ultimately, they begin adjusting their own commission and that of other employees, as *favors*. Cheating and stealing stem from an opportunistic attitude, but I say that many more other subtle behaviors occur far before leading up to the more prosecutable acts. It is an attitude.

    That same reasoning can apply to cheating students, since cheating is an act of opportunism. Since not all students with that attitude get caught and I don’t see them having the opportunity to cheat at every assignment- would they when they could? What sort of subtle behaviors to watch for? What kind of attitude is a red flag? Which students take offers for non-credit work? Which students will stay for a lab when told leaving won’t count against them and that participating will earn them no credit? Which students are concerned with only the grade, not finding out the answers to missed questions? Do they even understand that the graded work is ongoing communication, not competition with other students? Which ones would stay after class to find that out? Which ones are bothered by not knowing which ones they missed? Which students want to learn the subject enough that they end up outsourcing the provided material- no course program can ever cover the available knowledge or recent material for a subject, we all know that? Are they using the resources provided and attempting to find more out on their own? What kinds of students cheat the most? Those that are failing the course, or those that want an A? What motivates a person to remain in that kind of attitude for years? Do they not learn from their actions? Does the act of cheating lower self-esteem, does each act of cheating reinforce the attitude? Can students be rehabilitated from that type of thought process? Can children be given the tools, knowledge, and encouragement early on, so as to spare them from having an opportunistic attitude? Does it stem from experience with the education system in late childhood? Do cheaters need help? Are they as bad as thieves are? Do they deserve compassion and rehabilitation counseling the same that we give the worst criminal offenders in the penal system? Can we even generalize what type of person a cheater must be? Are there different categories of cheater, those we should be more compassionate towards or those we should more persecuting towards? Do some need help, but don’t know what to do? Do others just not care? Can we even begin to blame the government or educators for the kind of attitude a person holds?

    Some food for thought after 400 mg of caffeine!
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2016
  5. Oct 11, 2016 #30

    Fervent Freyja

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    This is very sad. Does this explain why it is such a clean country? I didn't get the impression that people were very unhappy when I visited many years ago. They were very friendly with me and seemed to have good, cooperative attitudes towards each other! It does make sense now that I look back. It makes me sad to think of such friendly people having to live that way. :frown:
     
  6. Oct 12, 2016 #31

    HAYAO

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    Physics labs tend to be much more benign compared to chemistry labs. And like anywhere else, even in chemistry there are labs that are just simply good. So in these labs, I am sure what Dr. Courtney said applies. Ironically, labs that produce a lot of good results typically have very bad working conditions and selfish and irrational professors. In Japan, we call these types of labs as "Black Laboratories". Students in these so-called "black labs" typically do experiments during "core-time" (time in which you must be in the lab) and is not allowed to do any work that is done on desk. So they do their desk works after that "core-time" has passed. This core-time is typically around 8 to 9 hours for normal labs, but black labs tend to be 12 hours or more. Considering that they can only work on desk after such 12 hours, they really end up going home much later than that. These people are deprived of sleep. I really feel bad for them.

    I am in one of those labs that are in the grey zone. The core-time is 8 to 10 hours a day (depends on the day of the week) and 5 days a week. And professors don't force you to do nothing but experiments during that time. Nonetheless, I tend to stay around 12 to 14 hours a day and occasionally go on the weekends as well. My advisors are also quite tough in an irrational way. But it is not like I can produce more results than the people in the States do in their much shorter working hours. It is because we have too much office work and non-research related work than the research itself. I really hope this changes. This is not what I went there for.

    Foreigners tend to get treated better since most Japanese will give up on pushing on the same ideals on people with significant cultural differences. It's also many because Japanese typically admire Americans and Europeans. And like you would expect for any country, there are people who are genuinely good and people who are just good on the outside. These unreasonably tough people are those who are only good on the outside as far as my experience goes.

    Okay I am finished with my lunch. I gotta go to work again.
     
  7. Oct 12, 2016 #32
    I'm not so sure I would be so pessimistic. I think many people are born viewing science as a challenge and an adventure, but that various features of the educational system force accommodations that bury the view as a challenge and adventure under layers of coping mechanisms. It would be an error to conclude that only those whose challenge and adventure outlook are apparent in college ever had it in the first place. My first thought was to encourage skeptics to visit their regional and state science fairs. There you will meet dozens or hundreds of students with the challenge and adventure outlook. But then I realized that experience is ambiguous as one could argue that the science fair participants are essentially selected and might represent a small minority.

    A better case can be made by considering the group of USAFA cadets who participated in the research program for the weakest 10% of incoming science and math students that was started by colleagues and I. These were the students described as "trailers and failers" by some administrators. These were the students with average (at best) ACT scores in science and math and who either placed into remedial math or who failed Calc 1 the first semester.

    By giving them opportunities to participate in publication quality research as freshmen, we were able to reach underneath those layers of coping mechanisms, find the spark, and rekindle the sense of challenge and adventure that had been snuffed out and buried by the educational system that had told them they were stupid and could not do well in science and math. True, only 35% of program participants did well enough on their projects to yield published papers, but a 35% rate of scholarly publications in this group provides hard evidence that the sense of challenge and adventure of science is not absent from the "vast majority." The challenge for educators is to present students with the puzzle pieces needed to succeed and impart the confidence to move forward and embrace the challenge and adventure. We need to convince students of a path forward without resorting to their habitual coping mechanisms.

    See: Impossible? Publication Quality Research with the Weakest 10% of Incoming Freshmen
     
  8. Oct 12, 2016 #33

    Charles Link

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    If instructors are going to police their classes for cheating, I think they need to be careful that they don't overdo it. I remember one Differential Equations professor we had as undergraduates who had very good command of his subject and was quite an excellent teacher in that regard, but he lacked personal skills and also went very much out of his way to police cheating that I think was non-existent. It was an extremely high pressure environment and back then these courses were pretty much "make it or break it" as far as our academic futures were concerned. In our hourly exams, we had 40 people crammed in a small room and he kept telling us "eyes on your own paper" and then even threatened to start picking up our papers if we didn't stop looking at our neighbors tests. I did get an "A" in his class, but on the second hourly, which was very difficult, I did somewhat poorly. As I am handing in my paper and telling him I really did poorly, instead of telling me to keep working hard, maybe you'll do better next time, his response was "congratulations!!" He was a very good example of someone who took himself a little too seriously and was just not the way to be.
     
  9. Oct 18, 2016 #34

    Mark Harder

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    The 'customer' moniker is adopted by those universities (including a former employer of mine) governed by the philosophy that universities should be run like a business. It's a misguided response to the economic pressures under which universities operate today. Public universities are under pressure from the electorate who won't vote for the increased taxes needed to feed the insatiable hunger of the public academy. I have lived in Oregon long enough to have witnessed just such a progression. The state legislature can't raise taxes without an authorizing referendum, which are opposed both by taxpayers and business interests within the state and outside it. It's become popular to blame faculty and public service unions and their retirement funds for the growing expenses. A closer look at universities' budgets shows that they share the same problem as many corporations. They are all top-heavy. Administrations (like corporate executives) make the decisions and reward themselves as they like. My former employer's administration once tried to enact a raise for themselves in secret, so the faculty wouldn't get wind of it, to take just one example. The 'business' model has also been applied to medical facilities, and I imagine the results are similar. The fact is that education and health care are intrinsically not businesses, and trying to run them as if they were has been ruinous in more ways that one.
     
  10. Oct 19, 2016 #35

    Mark Harder

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    Education is not like fattening a goose. You can't just force feed "knowledge" to the student, who is a passive participant at best, a determined opponent at worst. This misunderstanding engenders another one - if a student fails, it's the teacher's fault. When you get right down to it, the responsibility for educating a student lies principally in the student. IMHO, telling them that, for reasons discussed in this thread, they are entitled to a positive result (i.e. a license to make money) from their education is a very big part of the problem, and the source of excessive leniency in education.
     
  11. Oct 19, 2016 #36

    mheslep

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    Like corporate execs in a monopoly or subsidized market perhaps, otherwise no. Top heavy companies that perform poorly against competition in open markets have their management dismantled or otherwise have the company cut up. There is no such threat to the traditional university system supplied by billions in student loans, immunity to property taxes, etc.
     
  12. Oct 20, 2016 #37
    Well said.
     
  13. Oct 20, 2016 #38

    HAYAO

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    Wholeheartedly agree.
     
  14. Oct 20, 2016 #39
    Exactly right. The higher educational system has the flow of money mostly under control of the students rather than the real customers (taxpayers and future employers).

    We are rapidly approaching the day when a most college degrees will be worth less than most high school degrees were worth in the 1980s. But they cost the taxpayer 10-20 times more.
     
  15. Jan 2, 2017 #40

    anorlunda

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    Are there not times when scientific results are politically incorrect to the degree that it would be career suicide to report results contrary to the majority opinion?

    Anti-global-warming is one case that comes to mind.
    The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray is another.
     
  16. Jan 2, 2017 #41
    It's possible. Anyone publishing results that the anti-vax movement could use to bolster their position would be treading on thin ice. I'd have a back-up plan to a tenure-track faculty position if publishing results that were unfavorable to gun control or favorable to fracking.

    There are several politically-charged subjects related to science in the Gulf of Mexico that I have co-authored papers on: red snapper population dynamics, nutrient loading, the purported "dead zone." There are kinds of results in these three areas that it seems like those in academic positions and federal government agencies tend to avoid publishing. Owning a scientific consulting company where 75% of our revenue is in unrelated (Dept of Defense) type consulting gives a lot more freedom to not censor our results with a politically correct filter.

    I've had some colleagues decline invitations to join projects as co-authors. Their expressed reasons are not that the project is not interesting or that the results are not correct, but rather that they were concerned with negative career implications of politically incorrect results.

    At the same time, some students we've mentored have received negative feedback from University officials that the DoD-related projects they worked with on were "too militaristic." So apparently, working on certain DoD projects may also put one in a zone of political incorrectness with potential negative consequences in academia.
     
  17. Jan 2, 2017 #42

    anorlunda

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    In that case, there can be cases where it takes uncommon courage and character to not fake results to avoid violating a taboo.

    The flip side of that coin is that the lay public has some grounds to be suspicious of mainstream science that supports the taboos. Perhaps we shouldn't always be in a hurry to label such people as ignorant or anti-science.
     
  18. Jan 2, 2017 #43

    mheslep

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    Tragic. That's long been true I believe in the social sciences. When I was in grad school (engineering), to my mind the only topic that might have been considered politically incorrect in the hard sciences was anything related to nuclear weapons.
     
  19. Jan 2, 2017 #44

    Mark Harder

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    They might be "politically incorrect" in the opinion of the majority of the public and their colleagues. That doesn't mean they're widely discredited simply because they and their work are politically incorrect. As for career suicide, some cases, like denial of climate warming, are not quite suicidal. If you write a book making your case, and it has an audience among the public, then you have been successful in at least that sense. And yes, you can find publishers who will accept your books, assuming the book is grammatically and stylistically well-written and the author is willing to consider his editor's requests. Some publisher accepted Bell Curve for publication and the book was widely read. If one's thesis isn't popular in academic and government circles and if his/her publication record is considered inferior by one's intellectual community, then one may very well have career difficulties, esp. if they aren't in a tenured position of some sort (This is one reason our universities have tenured positions - tenured faculty can't be fired based on the content of their intellectual output. ) As for the effect of books and other intellectual output on one's career, Herrnstein died while on the faculty of Harvard (1994, age 64). Murray is currently a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a prominent, conservatively oriented "think tank". He has won many awards and other honors. I think it's safe to assume that with that widespread regard, he's not hurting for money.
    The term 'politically incorrect' bothers me. It's usage is the problem. Taken literally, it should mean any dissent from the prevailing views of politics and society. If that were the case, it would apply to leftists who espouse belief sharply at variance from the mainstream. During the primary campaign this (past) year, Bernard Sanders was subject to ridicule by the MSM for some of his statements, to take one example. Yet, the term 'politically incorrect' was never applied to him (AFAIK). It's a political debating trick: You're politically correct if you are belong to the political center-to-left wing. You're politically incorrect if you are conservative only, and therefore unfairly persecuted by all those PC liberals. I propose we return to 'dissenter', 'dissenting', 'unorthodox' and other thesaurus entries as substitutes for 'PC' and 'P. in-C'.
     
  20. Jan 3, 2017 #45
    Rather than assign labels, my training and instincts lead me to try and find the most direct path from the assertions to the supporting data. In cases where the issues seem to devolve more into an argument from authority (and ambiguous data), I am skeptical. In cases where there may be alternate explanations for the available data, I am skeptical. In cases where the publications obscure the data, I am skeptical. But it has become popular to label skeptics as "deniers."

    The word "taboo" is probably a good choice for the negative feedback expected for publishing data or possible interpretations that run counter to certain public policy goals. Faking data does seem to happen occasionally, but as I mentioned earlier, other forms of scientific dishonesty seem more common:
    The scientific dishonesty can often be more subtle such as:

    A. publishing data agreeing with a model in journals and with press releases, while keeping data in disagreement under wraps or harder to find.
    B. publishing data supporting desired policy change (or funding) quickly while delaying data not supporting desired policy change (or funding)
    C. careless or willful misuse of sources: making overly broad or different claims than those well supported in citations
    D. Focus on one possible causal factor while ignoring other possibilities
    E. Confusing failing to find support for a competing hypothesis in an experiment with disproof of that hypothesis
    F. Publishing conclusions without a clear path and access to the raw experimental data and analysis that supports those conclusions. Without the data, it is a dishonest appeal to the authors' authority rather than a scientific result.

    Muddying the water in these ways lengthens the effective correction time to as long as 25-50 years in many cases. Insistence on data and repeatable experiment eventually correct scientific mistakes and outright fraud. Censorship, professional consequences, and funding consequences are only effective in the short term. They erode public trust and can lead to bad policy decisions for a time. Many science enthusiasts recognize that the scientific method is self-correcting, but they often forget the many lessons in the history of science that show that it often takes a while for a consensus view to be overthrown with new data.

    There is one field where I have published in where an old guard are reusing to accept that they were wrong based on new data. I suspect that they will continue propagating their views until they retire and pass on. Cases like this often define the longer time constants for scientific error correction.

    Colleagues and I have taken an approach of, "If you see something, say something" in terms of correcting scientific errors. We'll go ahead and publish a comment if we find published errors in the literature. As in the case above where we pointed out the consistent errors in the model predicting the area of hypoxic bottom water each year in the Gulf of Mexico, the mistaken authors are slow to acknowledge why they fixed their model, but in many cases they do work to fix their model.
     
  21. Jan 3, 2017 #46

    anorlunda

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    Thanks for the insightful post #45 @Dr. Courtney. Reading it made me think of the technological singularity.

    I get there by reducing everything you said (forgive me for that) to a simple time constant that we can ascribe to ego, or humanity. Then, I think back to the point kinetics equations that I used in nuclear engineering. Where you have a positive feedback, exponential growth results. But even a modest time constant in the feedback loop greatly moderates the rate of growth.

    So on a broad scale, scientific advancement is moderated by the humanity of scientists. But when AI really gets going in science it will have a much shorter moderating time constant, simply by virtue of objectivity. That would suggest an increase in the rate of ggrowth of science so dramatic that we might describe it as an overnight explosion, That is exactly what the proponents of the singularity claim.

    Note that human-like intelligence or self consciousness of the AI is not necessary. Indeed, inhumanity is its strength.
     
  22. Jan 4, 2017 #47
    In the context of science and education, politically incorrect refers to a subset of dissenting viewpoints that relate to issues of public policy; therefore, the term is more descriptive than merely "dissenting" or "unorthodox."

    For example, beginning a decade ago, my wife and I published a series of papers articulating the "unorthodox" viewpoint that bullet hits to the chest could cause traumatic brain injury through action at a distance through a pressure wave effect. ( See: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0808/0808.1443.pdf ) This was definitely dissenting from the mainstream view that the only bullet injuries were close to the bullet. The view we articulated has become much more widely accepted over the past decade, and those holding the older view are closer to becoming the minority of dissenting voices. (Experimental evidence will do that.) So while there is some division among federal agencies on which view is right (Army and Border Patrol favor the pressure wave effect, FBI still seems to doubt), it's more of a scientific debate without political overtones.

    In contrast, consider the question of how bad nutrient loading is for the Gulf of Mexico. Some authors think it is very bad and are pushing a public policy agenda to strong arm farmers to greatly reduce fertilizer use throughout the Mississippi River watershed. Colleagues and I have pointed out that this nutrient loading greatly increases fishery production in Louisiana Gulf waters, and that the relatively small, temporary areas of bottom water hypoxia are not serious enough to signficantly harm the fishery. (See: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1306/1306.5114.pdf ). We've also pointed out published errors by NOAA and errant predictions by some of the big authors in the field. Our work in this field was not just dissenting, it was politically incorrect, because it had the effect of making calls for drastic public policy measures seem less urgent.

    Purveyors of the opposing view have not taken it well. In fact, back in 2013, we were invited to the LUMCON facility in Cocodrie, Louisiana to perform an experiment on magnetoreception in fish. When the higher officials at LUMCON realized that dissenters to their nutrient loading paradigm had been invited, we were summarily uninvited. Our magnetoreception experiment was delayed and eventually performed in SW Louisiana instead of in Cocodrie. Happily, we still discovered magnetoreception in three new species of teleost (bony) fish. Unhappily, this result is somewhat politically incorrect as well, since NOAA and some environmentalist groups are pushing to require magnetic hooks on longlines based on the theory that magnetic hooks will reduce shark bycatch without impacting catch rates of target teleost species.

    One more example of dissention that is not politically incorrect. When I arrived at MIT in 1989, the research group I was joining had just published a paper purporting to provide experimental support for the widely held notion that systems that were classically regular (not chaotic) have a certain kind of energy level statistics (Poisson distribution). See: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.62.893 I didn't question the experimental result, I questioned the assumption that the underlying classical dynamics was regular. In time, I proved that the underlying dynamics was chaotic, and that the experimental evidence originally thought to support a widely held notion, in fact provided a disproof by counterexample. See: http://journals.aps.org/pra/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevA.53.178 . Since there was no public policy issue at stake, the new result was quickly accepted. More importantly, the lithium Stark system was recognized as chaotic also (due to the core) and became a valuable test case for different ideas in quantum chaos. See: http://journals.aps.org/pra/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevA.51.3604
     
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