Day By Day

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority

From the WSJ:

We all make mistakes and, if you believe medical scholar John Ioannidis, scientists make more than their fair share. By his calculations, most published research findings are wrong.

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. "There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims," Dr. Ioannidis said. "A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true."

The hotter the field of research the more likely its published findings should be viewed skeptically, he determined.

Read the whole thing here.

Think about it -- a majority, or even a "vast majority" of peer-reviewed published findings in fields such as medicine and environmental science [the areas most prone to abuse] are false. Yet activists and technocrats demand that we base our public policy on them.


The politicization of science is rapidly destroying the entire scientific enterprise. I have seen the collapse of scientific authority in my own life. It used to be that if you invoked a "study" to support an argument, informed people would ask for a specific citation -- now, increasingly, they just snicker.

And scientists have nobody to blame but themselves. They have earned the laughter.