What Science Can Tell Us About Bad Science

Scientists and scientific claims are too often regarded as unquestionable.  Yet, few things are manipulated as often as scientific data points.  I feel like I am more aware of scientists making confident claims in nonscientific areas (like politics, morality, etc).  Is it happening more often? I don’t know, it could just be me. But I do know that scientific failures are under more scrutiny that in the past.  Because of all this,  I am fascinated when scientific researchers point out what is behind the curtain in Oz. Here is yet more information confirming what we would rather not believe: scientists are frequently wrong and sometimes intentionally so. 

“By one estimate, from 2001 to 2010, the annual rate of retractions by academic journals increased by a factor of 11 (adjusting for increases in published literature, and excluding articles by repeat offenders)…”

“Retractions are born of many mothers,” write Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, the co-founders of the blog Retraction Watch, which has logged thousands of retractions in the past five years. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 2,047 retractions of biomedical and life-sciences articles and found that just 21.3 percent stemmed from straightforward error, while 67.4 percent resulted from misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4 percent) and plagiarism (9.8 percent) .

“Surveys of scientists have tried to gauge the extent of undiscovered misconduct. According to a 2009 meta-analysis of these surveys, about 2 percent of scientists admitted to having fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once, and as many as a third confessed “a variety of other questionable research practices including ‘dropping data points based on a gut feeling,’ and ‘changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source’ ” [4].As for why these practices are so prevalent, many scientists blame increased competition for academic jobs and research funding, combined with a “publish or perish” culture.” (Emphasis added)

Yikes, this is scary. This kind of attention has the potential to be good for science in the long run. Hopefully it will bring some much needed humility.  It should definitely put to death the false notion of objectivity. Science is always a handmaiden to the allegiances of the scientist.  

Source: What Science Can Tell Us About Bad Science – The Atlantic

One thought on “What Science Can Tell Us About Bad Science

  1. I once sat in on a school board meeting where a parent was questioning the biology textbook that was being used (which was in my opinion mostly a propaganda piece with very little “science” in it). They listened politely to the parent, then had the director of the science department at the school respond. In his response, he defined science as the practice of trying to come up with the best explanation for things, based upon the assumption of a closed system. That is, a system in which there is nothing outside that system. That is, by definition, science must exclude the consideration of anything supernatural — God. He went on to explain that it doesn’t matter if the conclusions “are true or not, it is good science.” All 30 educators sat around solemnly nodding their assent. Before the advent of an anti-theistic approach to science, science was a search for truth. True science, still is a search for truth. True science examines its assumptions.

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