Anything that begins with the line, “Current research reveals that…” sounds authoritative, indisputable and true. But what if it’s not?
The newest report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), “The Irreproducibity Crisis of Modern Science,” released Tuesday, reveals a systemic integrity problem within modern science. When scientists are unable to reproduce their results, it means that those results may have been a fluke, manipulated or even fabricated for a specific outcome. Yet those results are often advertised as “clinical research proves…” or “the latest study confirms that” which not only misleads the public but also dilutes the place of scientific research in the society at large. This use and abuse of statistics affects not just the sciences, but the entire culture’s perception of reality.
Consider a 2012 study which sought to reproduce the results of 53 landmark studies in hematology and oncology but could only reproduce six (11%). Or the “groundbreaking” research in microplastics performed by postdoc Oona Lönnstadt and her supervisor Peter Eklöv of Uppsala University in Sweden. The research, published in the June 2016 issue of Science claimed that microplastic particles in the ocean were endangering fish. In reality, Lonnstadt fabricated her data and was later reprimanded by the university. But by this time, it didn’t matter. She was an environmental crusader, researcher and celebrity.
And scientific journalism isn’t helping. In 2004 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released information that 400,000 Americans die from obesity every year which the media thoroughly publicized. Later, a 2005 study by the CDC revealed that the number may be closer to 112,000. But by that time no one cared to thoroughly publish the retraction.
The integrity issue in the sciences can be found both on the supply (researcher) side and the demand (media and research institutions) side. Positive, groundbreaking and glamorous research gains publication in scientific journals, magazines and other media. Publication means greater clout within your discipline, pay raises, tenure at a university, and the ability to secure grants for further projects. Replicating old research to see if the results still stand isn’t going to land you on the front page of Science magazine or get you an interview on NPR.
The lack of accountability and unbridled researcher freedom means that the researcher can change his or her hypothesis midcourse, leave out data or manipulate the outcome. When researchers do not face accountability, they are more apt to manipulate results to make their hypothesis correct. NAS cites a “survey of more than 2,000 psychologists found that 38% admitted to ‘deciding whether to exclude data after looking at the impact of doing so on the results.” Additionally, in this same survey, “36% of those surveyed ‘stopped data collection after achieving desired results,’” rather than completing the data sets.
Further, academic groupthink adheres to an ideology and ignores or ostracizes research which contradicts it. For example, climatologist Judith Curry’s 2017 testimony before Congress revealed the systemic of problem of groupthink in her field:
“The politicization of climate science has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research, so that individual scientists and institutions have become activists and advocates for emissions reductions policies. Scientists with a perspective that is not consistent with the consensus are at best marginalized (difficult to obtain funding and get papers published by ‘gatekeeping journal editors) or at worst ostracized by labels of ‘denier’ or ‘heretic.’”
In history, scientific groupthink resulted in incorrect, but “widely accepted” scientific beliefs. Most notable among these was the acceptance of the world as flat and the ignoring of Ignaz Semmelweis’ advice that doctors and birth attendants should wash their hands before delivering a baby. Could the same ignorance be the fate of the modern scientific community as a result of their own groupthink? Science ought to be objective and data-based, not repurposed to conform to a particular ideology.
In spite of the crisis, several positive trends are shaping the future of science in a positive way. New journals emphasizing the publishing of negative results include the The All Results Journal, the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine, the Journal of Pharmaceutical Negative Results, the International Journal for Re-Views in Empirical Economics, and others.
In addition, the World Health Organization has called for more data openness and the publishing of negative results saying, “Researchers have a duty to make publicly available the results of their research…negative and inconclusive as well as positive results must be published or otherwise made publicly available.”
As society seeks to make the integrity of science a priority, we must not only reform the incentive structure within academia, but also reform scientific journalism which rewards “creative” and politicized science with media coverage. Ultimately, a commitment by the scientific community to truth, rather than manipulated statistical models, will restore the integrity of the sciences and its beneficial place in society.
Originally published on Patriot Post, April 19, 2018
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In polite conversation, opposing policies like sanctuary cities, the release of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, welfare, or gender “transitioning” can appear compassionless, callous and fundamentally not “nice.” Intimidated by social awkwardness, most people react in silence and self-censorship, while privately believing that certain things are wrong, immoral or unsafe. However, it would be useful to examine the claims of “nice” and to determine whether these trends and policies are actually “nice” or just harming innocent people by ignoring reality. Are we hurting people in our attempts to be “nice?”
Consider the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. You’ve heard that it is inhumane (i.e. not nice) to keep terrorists and enemy combatants in the Guantanamo Bay prison. However, more than 100 released prisoners have re-entered combat to kill American troops and allies. Of course, terrorists also slay Christians, Jews, gays, Yezidis and anyone with whom they disagree. It would therefore be inhumane to allow this to happen, wouldn’t it?
Freeing terrorists to rape and murder innocent people? Not nice.
Sanctuary Cities. Borders are bigotry and we should build bridges not walls, right? And sanctuary cities are places of respite and hope for those seeking a better life. We should therefore transform our cities into law-free zones, where the rule of law does not apply—because we want to be hospitable, kind and “nice.” Thus, we have cities (and an entire state-California) which harbor criminals, rapists, murderers and others leaving our law enforcement without legal authority to arrest them. A 2014 ICE study revealed that of 8,145 criminals released—because of local law enforcement’s refusal to comply with ICE detaining requests– 1,867 were re-arrested a total of 4,298 times and charged with 7,291 crimes. Of course, not every illegal immigrant is a criminal, but the sanctuary city policy does not distinguish between illegal immigrants with a criminal record and those without one.
Transforming cities into zones of lawlessness where law-enforcement cannot detain illegal immigrants with criminal records, but instead let them go free to commit more crimes against innocent citizens? Not nice.
Welfare. Many people are under the impression that government welfare helps the poor by “giving” to the less fortunate. Yet, while the impulse to help those in need roots itself in compassion, the unintended consequence of welfare programs is the killing of the human spirit which longs to accomplish great things. True compassion sees the value and dignity of each human being and helps them to achieve their potential.
Star Parker, a former welfare single mom who worked her way out of the system, later founding Urban Cure, states, “It is no accident that the most loyal Democratic Party supporters are those most dependent on the government.” Democratic politicians essentially trade “free stuff” for votes, which keeps the poor in poverty and the elitist politicians in power. Sadly, many of welfare’s recipients have bought into the lie that welfare is good for them, when in reality, it’s only good for the politicians who exploit them.
Exploiting and stripping dignity from a whole class of people—the poor—for political power? Not nice.
The Trans-Gender Movement seeks to make gender a social construct thereby allowing a person’s feelings to be the great arbiter of which biological parts he or she (or ze) allows on his or her (or zir) body. Society should be nice and compassionate, sensitive and tolerant of those who have the courage to transition and live as their (or zir) authentic selves. Yet, this entire concept has no scientific (medical or psychological) validation, wars against nature, reason and logic, and stands against common-sense medical ethics. Will giving hormones to a five-year-old child for 10 years cause cancer? Will chopping or sewing things onto a teenage kid cause negative psychological damage? The limited research on this topic only shows increased risk of suicide among those who choose to transition.
Using children in unvalidated social experiments which lead to increased suicide risk? Not nice.
It is time to rethink “nice,” and call into question those movements, policies and political trends that make our world unsafe, exploit whole classes of people, and endanger children. Examining the evidence behind trends that masquerade as “nice,” it is clear that “nice” is just a cover for policies and attitudes that actually hurt people. In the end, we must be “nice” enough to call it for what it is: exploitation.
Originally published on Patriot Post, April 12, 2018.
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