Thursday, April 19, 2018

It seems as if there’s no end of “scientific truths” that just ain’t so

Half the results published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are probably wrong 
write Peter Wood and David Randall in a Wall Street Journal piece entitled How Bad Is the Government’s Science? (thanks to Instapundit).
John Ioannidis, now a professor of medicine at Stanford, made headlines with that claim in 2005. Since then, researchers have confirmed his skepticism by trying—and often failing—to reproduce many influential journal articles.

 … It seems as if there’s no end of “scientific truths” that just aren’t so.

 … The chief cause of irreproducibility may be that scientists, whether wittingly or not, are fishing fake statistical significance out of noisy data. If a researcher looks long enough, he can turn any fluke correlation into a seemingly positive result. But other factors compound the problem: Scientists can make arbitrary decisions about research techniques, even changing procedures partway through an experiment. They are susceptible to groupthink and aren’t as skeptical of results that fit their biases. Negative results typically go into the file drawer. Exciting new findings are a route to tenure and fame, and there’s little reward for replication studies.

 … A deeper issue is that the irreproducibility crisis has remained largely invisible to the general public and policy makers. That’s a problem given how often the government relies on supposed scientific findings to inform its decisions. Every year the U.S. adds more laws and regulations that could be based on nothing more than statistical manipulations.

All government agencies should review the scientific justifications for their policies and regulations to ensure they meet strict reproducibility standards. The economics research that steers decisions at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department needs to be rechecked. The social psychology that informs education policy could be entirely irreproducible. The whole discipline of climate science is a farrago of unreliable statistics, arbitrary research techniques and politicized groupthink.
Mr. Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars. Mr. Randall is the NAS’s director of research and a co-author of its new report, “The Irreproducibility Crisis of Modern Science.”

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