Truth or Dare: Bias in Scientific Research

by Gangster_of_Love on January 29, 2014 - 5:24pm

“New Truths that Only One Can See”, written by George Johnson and published in the New York Times in January 2014, questions the integrity and falsifiability of modern scientific publications. Successful replication of a given experiment is the highest standard for declaring a hypothesis true. However, recent findings, namely by researcher Dr. John P. A. Ioannidis, show an unusual and unacceptable amount of false findings that managed to evade refutation through certain biases and corruptions. The majority of the experiments proven false or unable to be reproduced were those on a small enough scale (cellular or microscopic level), those with overlapping scientific fields, those with variables in design and effect, and those involved in competitive or subjective circumstances (obtaining grants, maintaining reputation, etc.). The number of different teams replicating a single experiment also impacts the likelihood of false publications; if one group out of five manages to successfully replicate an experiment, that group will be chosen for publication despite its blatant minority. For example, a Californian biotechnology firm published landmark oncology studies wherein a mere 11% had confirmed data. Regardless of the obvious research flaws, the papers were chosen because their content was “fresh” and “alternative”. Other times, when the data was never successfully replicated, the original researchers claimed that their field was too esoteric. Ioannidis exposes the subtle, sometimes unconscious biases of contemporary scientists. Johnson ponders whether knowledge that demands impossibly specific circumstances is perhaps equally invalid as outdated scientific models based on superstitions. Either way, the art of discovery has reached a point corruption and invalidity take primacy over objective knowledge. This corruption proves that the faith we place in the modern scientific method may be as misplaced as the faith we place in religion when it comes to finding Truth.

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