Day By Day

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Continung Collapse of Scientific Authority

As I have frequently noted scientific investigation is a human activity and as such is subject to all the foibles of human endeavor. This is a fact that has not been generally appreciated, largely because of an irrational faith that the internal institutions that shape the scientific community include corrective mechanisms and methods of inquiry that guarantee objectivity. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly obvious that those mechanisms do not, and never did work, very well and that a great deal of the information reported by serious scientists is just plain wrong. David Freedman, writing in The Atlantic reports:
"Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong."
He discusses the career of Dr. John Ioannidis, who for decades now has been exposing the problem and is now beginning to be taken seriously.
He’s what’s known as a meta-researcher, and he’s become one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed. His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field’s top journals, where it is heavily cited; and he is a big draw at conferences. Given this exposure, and the fact that his work broadly targets everyone else’s work in medicine, as well as everything that physicians do and all the health advice we get, Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive. Yet for all his influence, he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change—or even to publicly admitting that there’s a problem. 
Yes, indeed, there is a problem -- a big one! And it is not just in medical science. The same problem afflicts climate science, sociology, economics, and in fact any field of inquiry where money and power are contingent upon results.The entire scientific enterprise, upon which our progressive view of the world is based, is thoroughly, and perhaps irredeemably corrupt.

Read this important and sobering article here. Then think about what you have read.

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