The peer review system has decayed to the point where the culture of the two “top” science journals virtually guarantees they will reject the most important research done today. It is the exact opposite of what we need to further human knowledge the fastest. Science and Nature are prestigious journals, yet they are now so conservative about ideas that challenge dominant assumptions, that they reject ground-breaking papers because those papers challenge the dominant meme, not because the evidence or the reasoning is suspect or weak.
Watts Up drew my attention to an extraordinary paper showing that billions of dollars of medical research may have been wasted because researchers assumed mice were the same as men. Dr Ronald W. Davis from Stanford comments: ““They are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.” He found that 150 drugs were tested that in hindsight, were guaranteed to fail in humans. People didn’t understand that mice have a very different response to sepsis (which is any overwhelming blood-borne bacterial infection). Sepsis kills around 200,000 people in the US each year and costs an estimated $17 billion a year. Mice are already resistant to huge numbers [...]
Who said scientific experts should be trusted?
Is corruption endemic? Fully 43% of retractions in the life science and medical research journals are due to fraud or suspected fraud.
Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications
Ferric C. Fang R. Grant Steen and Arturo Casadevall
PNAS PNAS 2012 109 (42) 16751-16752; doi:10.1073/iti4212109
A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased ∼10-fold since 1975. Retractions exhibit distinctive temporal and geographic patterns that may reveal underlying causes.
Plus this published correction.
RetractionWatch points out that this could be the tip of the iceberg
The question, of course, is, how common is scientific misconduct? The simple but unsatisfying answer is that we don’t know, certainly not based on this study, because it’s [...]
The New Yorker has such an interesting article it’s already generating discussion here, so it deserves a thread of it’s own. It describes a true modern paradox, namely that so many good studies can show interesting “significant” results, yet very few of these turn out to be genuine repeatable findings, and frustrated researchers struggle to get similar results, and it’s almost as if, the harder they try, the worse it gets. Many researchers across disparate fields are noticing an odd trend that the effect they thought was so solid, appears to mysteriously “wear off” as the years and the repeat trials go on.
It’s a sober warning to all of us to search hard for the truth hidden behind variables we are not even able to name yet, let alone measure, and to be ever vigilant about variables we can name, like “publishing bias” and “selective reporting”.
Annals of Science The Truth Wears Off Is there something wrong with the scientific method? by Jonah Lehrer December 13, 2010
These are quick quotes from a 5 page article. It’s well written, and worth reading in full.
But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look [...]
Prof Garth Paltridge released Climate Caper a year ago. As a working atmospheric physicist, his description of the fall of modern science is as insightful as his descriptions of the physics of the climate.
One of the messages that struck me was his point that it used to be seen as imperative for scientists to not be too specialized; to work in different specialties.
He points out that the mandate to publish or perish has far reaching consequences. To sum up his argument: the survival of a research scientist now depends on their ability to produce multiple papers; this rewards people who dilute their work, focus on trivial non-problems, and in short–tackle anything but difficult issues and deep revolutions.
Because of the need for multiple publications, no institution today would employ a scientist who was trained in another area–the new researcher would require too much uptime before their publications began to roll. So universities aim to find PhD grads who are an exact fit for the program.
(…aiming to find an exact fit, ensures) narrow-mindedness of scientific outlook, mediocrity in research, and a scientific literature that is so vast and overladen with minute of the unimportant, that [...]
Art Robinson is a rare man. He’s risen above and laid bare the creeping failure in the infrastructure of modern science over the last 50 years. He describes how the control of the quest for knowledge itself has been usurped from individuals and private industry and taken over by the government.
At the end of the day, what does being a scientist mean if there is nothing other than a certificate? Where is the code of conduct? Where are the professional associations which stand up and decry those who breach the basic requirements? What sense of duty and honor is left in science when high ranking members can make statements that are dishonest and yet keep their jobs and their reputations?
I was struck with Art’s description of a true scientist–where the most important attribute is honesty, where humility is inevitable in anyone who understands how little we comprehend, and where being a scientist is a lifelong search, rather than a 9 – 5 job.
The 10 page paper How Government Corrupts Science is worth reading in full.
Below are some select parts that especially struck a chord with me.
How Government Corrupts Science
Isaac Newton was the greatest [...]
How do you tell a scientist from a non-scientist? Where does science end, and propaganda, politics, and opinion begin? You only need to know one thing:
Straight away, this sorts the wheat from the weeds. We don’t learn about the natural world by calling people names or hiding data. We don’t learn by chucking out measurements in favor of opinions. We don’t learn by suppressing discussions, or setting up fake rules about which bits of paper count or which people have a licence to speak.
A transparent, competitive system where all views are welcome is the fastest way to advance humanity. The Royal Society is the oldest scientific association in the world. Its motto is essentially, Take No One’s Word For It. In other words, assume nothing; look at the data. When results come in that don’t fit the theory, a scientist chucks out his theory. A non-scientist has “faith”, he “believes” or assumes his theory is right, and tries to make the measurements fit. When measurements disagree, he ignores the awkward news, and “corrects”, or statistically alters, the data–always in the direction that keeps his theory alive.
The scientific process has become distorted. One side of a theory receives billions, but the other side is so poorly funded that auditing of that research is left as a community service project for people with expert skills, a thick skin and a passionate interest. A kind of “Adopt an Error” approach.
Can science survive the vice-like grip of politics and finance?
Despite the billions of dollars in funding, outrageous mistakes have been made. One howler in particular, rewrote history and then persisted for years before one dedicated fact checker, working for free, exposed the fraud about the Hockey Stick Graph. Meanwhile agencies like the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, can’t afford to install temperature sensors to meet its own guidelines, because the workers are poorly trained and equipped to dig trenches only with garden trowels and shovels. NOAA “adjust” the data after the fact—apparently to compensate for sensors which are too close to air conditioners or car parks, yet it begs the question: If the climate is the biggest problem we face; if billions of dollars are needed, why can’t we install thermometers properly?
Science based ideas are falsifiable, whereas religious ones are not (thanks Karl Popper). The acid test for climate scientists: “What evidence would convince you that carbon was not significant?” [...]
Evidence means observations, made by people at some time and place. Things you can see, hold, hear and record. Computer models are not, and can never be evidence. [...]
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