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 [...]
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.