Science’s Journal of Irreproducible Results

This title of this post isn’t meant to suggest science is pointless. Just that it shouldn’t be accepted as unqualified truth.

Excerpts from the article:

  • In an analysis of 300 clinical research papers about epilepsy — published in 1981, 1991, and 2001 — 71 percent were categorized as having no enduring value.
  • [R]esearchers at Amgen were unable to reproduce 89 percent of landmark cancer research findings for potential drug targets. (The problem even inspired a satirical publication called the Journal of Irreproducible Results.)
  • In his seminal paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” Stanford professor John Ioannidis developed a mathematical model to show how broken the research process is. Researchers run badly designed and biased experiments, too often focusing on sensational and unlikely theories instead of ones that are likely to be plausible. That ultimately distorts the evidence base — and what we think we know to be true in fields like health care and medicine.
  • Because of these now well-known problems, it’s not unusual to hear statements like those from The Lancet editor Richard Horton that “Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” He continued: “Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”
  • Long before it was mainstream to criticize science, Sheila Jasanoff, a Harvard professor, was arguing that science — and scientific facts — are socially constructed, shaped more by power, politics, and culture (the “prevailing paradigm”) than by societal need or the pursuit of truth. “Scientific knowledge, in particular, is not a transcendent mirror of reality,” she writes in her book States of Knowledge. “It both embeds and is embedded in social practices, identities, norms, conventions, discourses, instruments and institutions — in short, in all the building blocks of what we term the social.” In a conversation since, she cautioned, “There is something terribly the matter with projecting an idealistic view of science.”