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Serious discussion: Is science broken?

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‘I don’t know if you want to call it a crisis,’ says Alex Holcombe, associate professor of psychology at the University of Sydney. ‘But, we do know that of the efforts to try to systematically reproduce the findings, whether they be in cancer biology, whether they be in psychology, the success rate has not been impressive.’

In 2011, a paper from Bayer Pharmaceuticals reported that the company could only reproduce the findings of a quarter of studies published about particular drug candidates. Another company, Amgen Corporation, could only reproduce 11 per cent of the cancer and blood studies they looked at. ‘This was a shocking result,’ wrote the authors of the Amgen paper.

‘All the efforts that I’ve seen, the success rate has been less than 50 per cent,’ says Holcombe. ‘Which is really sad commentary if you think about all the science and health stories let’s say the ABC reports in a month, the idea that maybe more than 50 percent of those studies, if they were redone, you’d get a different result. That’s quite disappointing.’

Perhap not so much broken as too dependent on thrills, chills, and spills to be sober enough for the key task of accumulating a body of evidence.

Good advice from article author Wendy Zuckerman:

It does highlight, however, that science does not abide by a 24 hour media cycle. So when you read news articles about miracle drugs and new diets, treatments for porn addiction, perhaps follow it up in a decade—even if it’s from a peer-reviewed journal.

That’s assuming we’ll ever see it again. Assuming a lot.

See also: Retraction Watch


If peer review is working, why all the retractions?

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I think it would be a very practical solution. So what if it took longer to validate the findings? If you were an agency that was tasked with "replication" then you could be listed as an official entity of the paper. The author or authors of the findings could be listed as one group, and the agency/association/conglomeration/person (or other entity) that validated the results could be listed as the other. You may have to wait longer for the results, sure. But in so doing, you improve the reliability of the journal. It certainly doesn't appear to be more sensible to "understand that many results simply won't prove reproducible", when you have the means at your disposal to only publish reproducible findings. Over the course of the process, journals may be able to identify which experiments/findings are reproducible based upon some early criteria of the study/experiment/trial/etc... That may serve to assist the submitting agency as to whether a paper would likely lead to a retraction or not. ciphertext
Doesn't seem like a practical solution cipher. If a consortium enrolls > 1000 patients, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars generating genetic data from then months analyzing the results should we really wait until someone can perform a reproduction before publishing. You'll be waiting a long time, and what does the other group get out of it? Sames goes for ecological experiments, if two seasons of fieldword go into a result... Seems a more sensible approach is to understand that many results simply won't prove reproduce, have a good idea about which ones are more likely to demonstrate genuine effects and encourage the publication of replications. wd400
A proposal: "Science" journals should require experiments be reproducible before being published. In addition to the peer review, there should be peer reproduction. If an experiment isn't reproducible, then don't waste time publishing it. I was under the impression something like this already occurred. However, if the percentages being put forth concerning the inability to reproduce findings of a publishing are true, then that would lead me to believe otherwise. I don't know that it would "fix" science, so much as it would improve the reliability of the findings. Which, could mean that the development of new drug compounds or engineering developments have a smaller associated price tag. I'm assuming that drug manufacturers and engineering agencies spend real money trying to use faulty findings in their latest creations; only to realize that it was wasted. Am I wrong? ciphertext
Its the people doing the science that ios the problem. Just as evolutionary biology, done by few people, has been almost all wrong. Unless they are saying evo bio has had no failures to repeat its tests. i would say its had no success or tried really. Science is a methodology. Its about careful investigation by competent people. Science is not broken but rather the people in it and the methodology they use. People are screw ups. This hints at wghy creationism is well founded to question researchers into origin subjects. its not just in evo bio. Robert Byers
Both NOAA & NASA have "corrected" measurements recently to better support Global Warming: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2012/06/13/doctored-data-not-u-s-temperatures-set-a-record-this-year/ Now the IAU has massaged the Sunspot Activity to minimize the Sun's influence; http://astronomynow.com/2015/08/08/corrected-sunspot-history-suggests-climate-change-not-due-to-natural-solar-trends/ Climate Science sure seems to be playing hard and fast with the equations. At a time when thoughtfulness is a better choice. Oh well. Will "Big Geen" burst like "Dot.Com"? http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/08/global-warming-a-1-5-trillion-industry.php Hope so. For our children's sake. ppolish
It is interesting to note the fields that were brought into question. Experimental physics, as opposed to untestable multiverse and string theory physics, remained unblemished,
Excerpt: Consider a study published in September 2011 which found that neutrinos, a type of subatomic particle, travel faster than the speed of light. The finding was a shock to the particle physics community, as it defied Einstein's theory of relativity. 'I was having nightmares those days,' says Zwiebach. 'It would be like suddenly somebody would tell you that one plus one is not two.' As soon as the paper came out, scientists attempted to reproduce the results. By June the following year five different teams of physicists had independently verified that neutrinos do not travel faster than the speed light. 'The experimentalists found that they had made a mistake, a very subtle mistake, in synchronizing their clocks,' says Zwiebach.
Whilst the results from psychology and chemistry (particularly pharmaceuticals), as mahuna pointed out, are worthless in the overall 50% figure, or obviously in the business of distributing propaganda with the 11% figure for cancer and blood studies that they looked at. I imagine Rutherford is smiling:
"Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting." -- Ernest Rutherford
As to what experimental physics, our most trustworthy science, tells us about reality, well there was this recent 'mind-blowing' result:
Reality doesn’t exist until we measure it, (Delayed Choice) quantum experiment confirms - Mind = blown. - FIONA MACDONALD - 1 JUN 2015 Excerpt: "It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it," lead researcher and physicist Andrew Truscott said in a press release. http://www.sciencealert.com/reality-doesn-t-exist-until-we-measure-it-quantum-experiment-confirms New Mind-blowing Experiment Confirms That Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It - June 3, 2015 Excerpt: The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts. “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release.,,, “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said. Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer. http://themindunleashed.org/2015/06/new-mind-blowing-experiment-confirms-that-reality-doesnt-exist-if-you-are-not-looking-at-it.html Quantum Physics – (material reality does not exist until we look at it) – Dr. Quantum video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1ezNvpFcJU
Perhaps science is broken at its very foundations. From A.Dalela's blog post, The Broken Watchmaker "Scientists who assert that science is working although a few minor things need to be figured out are like Lord Kelvin who thought that black-body radiation and the constant speed of light would fit into the conceptual framework of classical physics. The problems facing science today are far more profound, varied, and pervasive than the ones previously seen. Their fix, accordingly, also requires a fundamental shift in our thinking." http://www.ashishdalela.com/2015/06/09/the-broken-watchmaker/ tarmaras
If half of the information being put out by a source is consistently wrong, that source is worthless. If 89% of the info is wrong (11% right), then the source is obviously in the business of distributing propaganda and should be openly labelled as such. It's kinda hard to support "scientists" as the great thinkers of our time when so many of them put out so much crap. And scientists refuse to clean up the mess. Other than losing out on funding for their next proposal, there doesn't appear to be any loss of professional status for fakery or sloppiness. mahuna

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