This is Not the Way Science Works

 

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I see it almost every day: A new study claims…, well whatever it happens to be depending on the day of the week. Most that I read predict some sort of doom-and-gloom for the human race. Some of them actually receive notice on the television networks. Think about it: a single study because national news. Whether it’s in print or on television, it’s rare that a single dissenting voice of the study is heard. What we’re looking at, I think, is a sort of scientific activism within those hallowed halls of journalism. We constantly see studies telling us we’re all going to die unless we all get on board and do something about climate change. What we never hear about are studies showing that, yes, the planet is warning, but it’s nothing to worry about. There are many of those studies but because it doesn’t fit the specific narrative we’re supposed to buy into, we rarely, if ever hear about it.

But this is not about a single scientific pursuit but many in the physical and social sciences. The ones that show the awfulness of humans seem to get the media coverage, the others? But even beyond that: why do we sit and read about a single study and assume it’s factual? That’s not the way science works. Yes there are individual and teams of scientists in every field researching a plethora of subjects, with the ultimate goal to improve the human condition  or to better inform us as to who we are, whether it’s biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology or anthropology, or a myriad of others and sub-fields with fields. All working to explain something we don’t have a clear understanding of today. With all of that research, how much of it is bad, or better yet, faked? Well, just a few years ago, there was a major controversy in science concerning published papers in elite scientific journals. It seems many of these papers either manipulated or actually faked their data. Who discovered these problems? Other scientists. It came out that some of these so-called elite scientific journals, supposed to send out these papers for peer-review before publishing, didn’t. In a few cases, some of these, before they were discovered, were reported in the media.

One of the largest hoaxes I can recall though is when two researchers at the University of Utah, in the 1980’s,  claimed to have solved the problem of cold fusion. For decades, researchers have been working on solving the problem of creating a fusion reactor that would supply, at a fraction of the energy cost to produce, energy for our homes and businesses. No fear of radioactive contamination that exist with our current nuclear reactors. But instead of using a short, large power application to begin the fusion process, these researchers claimed this wouldn’t be needed, taking that fraction further lower.The media attention was tremendous. Every media outlet, print or television, wanted to know more. This was going to solve all of our energy problems and to a large extent, remove our need for fossil fuels. Of course it was fake. Other scientists wer able to view their data and experimental protocols to show that what they were presenting would never work. They were disgraced (as they should have been). These weren’t two witchdoctors, but accredited scientists.

there was an actual doctor, yes, an M.D, that wrote a book more than a decade ago to make the case that vaccines cause autism. No study, and there have been many, to that time or after, correlates autism to vaccinations. None. Yet, even today, there are a lot of people that will cite that book and other information they’ve received while attending Google University, to forward that case. In the meantime, we have a 25% increase, just this year, in measles cases. Doctors are actually afraid we may see a resurgence in preventable disease, including Polio, which is a devastating disease to contract because there are so many that have bought into the lie, that vaccines don’t prevent these disease. This doctor? He actually lost his license to practice for being a purveyor of unscientific methodologies. Still, people believe this nonsense.

I don’t want anyone to think I’m leaving out the social sciences as just last year, three people came together and  wrote a number of papers, twenty I believe, all fake on purpose, and submitted them to various social science publications. Seven were actually published. One of those papers published was no more than a chapter from Hitler’s Mein Kampf,  substituting the words and phrases about Jews, to men. As many will recall, when these three were outed, were damned by those same people.  But no one made them publish, and even the most cursory of investigation would have proven that all seven published were in fact, fake. It started making me wonder how much that I read in this area, admittedly not that much, is true or not true. If it’s easy enough to take a chapter from Hitler, how easy is it to just make something up and show the data to prove a conclusion that has no basis in fact? I’m unsure, but it makes me skeptical whenever I read something created for a mass audience as to whether I may believe what I’m reading or not.

I think this is an unfortunate consequence of our time. Some have a need to prove their thesis and will seem to go to any length to prove it, even if that means faking the data and the experiments. I’m not saying that science is unreliable, in fact the opposite. What we all need to be aware of, and place a modicum ar minimum of skepticism towards, are those media stories that even at first look, seem implausible.  Believing a single study over a story that may say that there are multiple studies in an area, many may disagree, on a conclusion, is something to be avoided.

Is science unreliable? Of course not, but we need to be aware that there are those in every profession that have an agenda and we need to be able to sift those, from what may be informative without starting with any agenda. Science is this: Hypothesis, Experimentation, and Theorizing, based on experiments. That’s all before any conclusion. Other researchers will look at the data, the experimental protocols,  and attempt to replicate results. No one decides, “I think X, and I’m going to try and prove X”. That’s the opposite of science.

There have been instances where the work of a researcher has been disapproved of by his or her peers simply because of the research itself  and the outcome of the same. We’re all biased in one way or another and if bias leaks into research it should be pointed out. If the bias, though, is against the research for nothing other than what we happen yo believe, that too should be made clear. These are the kinds of things that make the public question the reliability of science. Transparency is what’s needed not only in the research itself, but from those criticizing that research as well. How may the public have confidence in  any outcome, if there’s a perceived bias in any part of the process?  The answer is simple: they can’t.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “This is Not the Way Science Works

  1. Not sure much of the public cares about making sure the science is proven, just that it supports their set of facts, which support their personal beliefs.

    Look at what has happened to the “science” of body dysmorphia and the incredible pressure that has been put upon these experts in health, psychology and medicine to alter their stance or pay the consequences.

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  2. In many cases, the problem seems to be poor ‘science journalism’. Actual scientists usually dont get much control over how anything they produce is represented in the media. If course there are those who taint their own work before a journalist ever sees it, but the publics’ perception of scientific information is usually skewed by poor communication.

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