3 out of 4 scientists agree
The bagatelle about how more than half of published research is wrong—a fact well known to regular readers—is garnering comment hither and yon.
Science is broken. The genius, the creative art of scientific discovery, has been squeezed into a square box, sieved through grant applications, citation indexes, and journal rankings, then whatever was left gets crushed through the press. We tried to capture the spirit of discovery in a bureaucratic formula, but have strangled it instead.
Junk Science weighs in, too. “It is our theme, sort of–our beta noire, our obsession—why can’t scientists and intellectual issue investigators tend to the evidence and insist on good methods?”
Joe Bast, Heartland’s chief, sent my piece around and John Droz responded (via email) saying Horton and I did not “adequately distinguish between Science and scientists.” Droz says, “Science is (at its core) a process” and he asks, “can Science be ‘wrong?'” answering “I think not.”
Well, sure. It takes a scientist to do science, bad or good. It can be said science is a process, but then so is history, theology, literature. Knowledge does not stand still. It is added to and subtracted from continuously. We happen to be in a period where the subtractions outweigh the additions.
Science can be wrong. That is, propositions which are believed by all or most scientists can be false. The belief is “science is self-correcting”. Always? How can you prove it? Answer: you cannot. We may forever be stuck with ideas that are wrong.
Chocolate is good for you
It’s pretty darned easy to pull off a nutritional “science” hoax. Or any kind of science hoax, really.
John Bohannon teamed up with a German documentary crew to undertake a crappy junk-science study on the effects of bitter chocolate on weight loss, and managed to push their hoax to major media outlets all over the world — here’s how.
First, they created a fake science institute, The Institute of Diet and Health, and then recruited a friendly MD to help them recruit a small number of volunteers for a weight-loss trial…
…researchers paged through 18 other factors they’d measured in the study — “weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc” — and cherry picked a couple of factors that looked better in the chocolate than in the low-carb group. On this basis, they were able to assert that adding chocolate to a low-carb diet made you lose weight 10 percent faster.
Statistics! “They wrote up a paper that contained obvious statistical canards — small sample size, bad sampling methodology, p-hacking, poor control group analysis” and got the thing published in a “premiere journal”.
And then mainstream reporters, self-described geniuses to a man, swallowed it whole: “headlines in media outlets from Huffington Post to The Times of India.”
Is there any field in which the egos of its indigenous populants outstrips ability to such a degree as journalism?
Read the whole story from the trickster.
A gay old time
Speaking of fooling reporters, a study so outrageous that even the New York Times was forced to cover it.
In 2012, as same-sex marriage advocates were working to build support in California, Michael LaCour, a political science researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked a critical question: Can canvassers with a personal stake in an issue — in this case, gay men and women — actually sway voters’ opinions in a lasting way?
Since the study—published in Science, the queen of American journals—accorded with the ideological convictions of the elite, it was gobbled up, its author feted, lionized. Turns out the “researcher” made up his data, which certainly makes the statistics easier.
More details here (sort of long and boring, though): The Case of the Amazing Gay-Marriage Data: How a Graduate Student Reluctantly Uncovered a Huge Scientific Fraud.
Mark Regnerus, who is often accused of fraud by the same sort of people who believed in the real fraud, has a piece: “A recent paper on same-sex marriage appears fabricated; an earlier, disparaged one on same-sex parents was not.”
I know how it feels to be accused of scientific malfeasance and sampling and data manipulation. I do not, however, know what it feels like to actually be guilty of those things. And yet over at the New York Times, my 2012 studies have been opportunistically lumped in with Mr. LaCour’s in an effort to tag my New Family Structures Study as tainted data. (They are not.)…
It’s the latest in a very long string of efforts to criticize the data, together with its sample, its author (and his friends), its funders, its measures, its analytic approach, its terminology, its data-collection organization, its reviewers, its journal’s editor, and its supporters. First one, then another, university inquisition has come to naught.
Moral of the story
Letting the public and the mainstream media decide what’s right and wrong is folly.
Update Forgot to say thanks to Paul Martin for the chocolate study.