Could physics be as bad as social psychology for scandals?
|March 12, 2014||Posted by News under News, Peer review, Physics|
We wouldn’t raise this possibility except that science writer George Johnson did at the New York Times:
These fields have not received the same kind of scrutiny as the others. Is that because they are less prone to the problems Dr. Ioannides described?
Faye Flam, a science writer with a degree in geophysics, made that argument in a critique of my column in Knight Journalism Tracker, and I responded on my own blog, Fire in the Mind. Since then I’ve been thinking more about the matter, and I asked Dr. Ioannidis for his view.
“Physical sciences have a stronger tradition of some solid practices that improve reproducibility,” he replied in an email. Collaborative research, for example, is customary in physics, including large consortiums of experimenters like the teams that announced the discovery of the Higgs particle. “This certainly increases the transparency, reliability and cross-checking of proposed research findings,” he wrote.
He also mentioned strict statistical standards, like the five-sigma measure and the cultural rejection of low-quality research in physics as reasons why it probably isn’t so bad.
He didn’t mention this , but we will: Cosmology so often seems out to lunch, is it possible that physicists who would just be making it up as they go along or phoning it in specialize in cosmology?
Also, apart from cosmology, physics mostly lacks the kinds of topics that yank people’s chains. The social psych scandals often involve research that confirms what the researchers likely think about people already. So much so that you wonder why we bother to read their research instead of just listening to them rant.
In which case, there never would have been a scandal. (No, there wouldn’t be any science either, but in any case there never was.
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (hat tip) begs to differ:
I predict that the physical sciences will have their share of fraud too. As Thomas Ray has said, every successful system accumulates parasites, and science has been successful long enough to pick up a substantial load.
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