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More from The Economist on what’s rotten with science today.

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Recently, the venerable mag weighed in on broken peer review.

In this piece, we learn that “Scientists like to think of science as self-correcting. To an alarming degree, it is not”:

The governments of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, spent $59 billion on biomedical research in 2012, nearly double the figure in 2000. One of the justifications for this is that basic-science results provided by governments form the basis for private drug-development work. If companies cannot rely on academic research, that reasoning breaks down. When an official at America’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) reckons, despairingly, that researchers would find it hard to reproduce at least three-quarters of all published biomedical findings, the public part of the process seems to have failed.

Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong. But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently corrected or withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. There are errors in a lot more of the scientific papers being published, written about and acted on than anyone would normally suppose, or like to think. [colour emphases added]

And some say there are things you can’t expect The Economist to tell you, like the problematic role of the big banking: “science is systematically perverted by torrents of government money provided via the West’s central-bank run economies .” Worth considering, anyway.

4 Replies to “More from The Economist on what’s rotten with science today.

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    In many respects science is self-correcting, but the news of the corrections fail to make it out into the public at large.

    Walking something back is never quite the splash as the initial speculation.

  2. 2
    Mapou says:

    Science is no longer self-correcting. The scientific community is an intellectually incestuous group of elitists who talk condescendingly to the public, the very public that pay their salaries. They refuse to allow the public to have oversight on their business and in so doing, they keep rehashing the same defective memes. The result is that we now observe the birth of one monstrosity after another:

    – Infinite parallel universes.
    – Time travel through wormholes.
    – Umpteenth dimensions that are compacted into balls so tiny they cannot be detected.
    – Cats that are both dead and alive.
    – Accelerated expansion of the universe.
    – Invisible magic matter that nevertheless comprises most of the mass of the universe
    – Ordinary dirt self-organizing into living cells.
    – Evolutionary psychology.
    – Consciousness being an emergent property of brains.
    – Conscious intelligent machines that will take over the world, herd humans like cattle and create a singularity.
    – Immortality via brain uploading.

    Etc., etc. The silliness never ends. It goes on and on. But it’s all just a fortress of cards that will soon come crashing down. The Big Bang is yet to come. Wait for it. 😀

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    science doesn’t exist. Its just people thinking about things. So conclusions are only as good as the thinkers thinking about them.
    Evolution was never corrected until these days by scientists. its obscure subjects but still what was the holdup.
    YEC predicted non yec scientists would one day unravel evolutions claims.
    science as a methodology is itself vague. Investigation standards are standards made by those thinkers that are not very good.

  4. 4
    Barb says:

    You have to give science credit where credit is due. Advances in various fields of science have certainly made contributions to the welfare of the human family. Various medical procedures have helped to prolong life and ease suffering. Advances in technology have improved the quality of our lives in some ways, and have made jobs easier.

    Because of such advances, many people view science with an almost worshipful awe. The successful moon landings by astronauts reinforce this feeling. As a result, the ideas expressed by scientists in other matters are also highly respected by many people. And it is a widely held belief that whatever problems the human family faces will eventually be solved, with science and technology leading the way.

    This prevailing view was summed up a few years ago in a report published in connection with the 200th anniversary of the founding of the well-known J. R. Geigy pharmaceutical corporation in Basel, Switzerland. One of the commentators, German physicist Professor C. F. von Weizsäcker, is reported as having stated:

    “Science today is the only thing in which men as a whole believe: it is the only universal religion of our time . . . The scientist has thus got himself into an ambiguous position: he is a priest of this new religion, possessing its secrets and marvels; for what to others is puzzling, strange or secret is plain to him.”

    But is such confidence in science justified? Not according to von Weizsäcker. He notes that any scientist worthy of the name should realize “that what he knows is only a fraction of what he needs to know if he is really to be fit to carry responsibility for the lives of men.” He should appreciate that even in his speciality there is so much he does not know. And honest scientists understand that while science has produced things improving life, it has also done the opposite. It has been responsible for producing things that have made life miserable for millions of people.

    In more recent times science and technology have shared responsibility for making and using things that have resulted in pollution, noise, congestion and tension. All these facts should make scientists more modest in their claims, and other people more careful as to where they put their confidence. Even men of science generally devoted to improving man’s life have awesome problems to face as we can see, for instance, in the drug industry. New drugs are constantly appearing on the market, but the supervision and testing of such drugs have not always been thorough enough.
    The drugs Thalidomide and Vioxx come to mind.

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