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Most Scientific Findings Are Wrong or Useless

“Science isn’t self-correcting, it’s self-destructing.”

ScientistYanlevDreamstimeYanlev/Dreamstime"Science, the pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble." So begins "Saving Science," an incisive and deeply disturbing essay by Daniel Sarewitz at The New Atlantis. As evidence, Sarewitz, a professor at Arizona State University's School for Future Innovation and Society, points to reams of mistaken or simply useless research findings that have been generated over the past decades.

Sarewitz cites several examples of bad science that I reported in my February article "Broken Science." These include a major biotech company's finding in 2012 that only six out of 53 landmark published preclinical cancer studies could be replicated. Researchers at a leading pharmaceutical company reported that they could not replicate 43 of the 67 published preclinical studies that the company had been relying on to develop cancer and cardiovascular treatments and diagnostics. In 2015, only about a third of 100 psychological studies published in three leading psychology journals could be adequately replicated.

A 2015 editorial in The Lancet observed that "much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue." A 2015 British Academy of Medical Sciences report suggested that the false discovery rate in some areas of biomedicine could be as high as 69 percent. In an email exchange with me, the Stanford biostatistician John Ioannidis estimated that the non-replication rates in biomedical observational and preclinical studies could be as high as 90 percent.

Sarewitz also notes that 1,000 peer-reviewed and published breast cancer research studies turned out to be using a skin cancer cell line instead. Furthermore, when amyotrophic lateral sclerosis researchers tested more than 100 potential drugs reported to slow disease progression in mouse models, none were found to be beneficial when tested on the same mouse strains. A 2016 article suggested that fMRI brain imaging studies suffered from a 70 percent false positive rate. Sarewitz also notes that decades of nutritional dogma about the alleged health dangers of salt, fats, and red meat appears to be wrong.

And then there is the huge problem of epidemiology, which manufactures false positives by the hundreds of thousands. In the last decade of the 20th century, some 80,000 observational studies were published, but the numbers more than tripled to nearly 264,000 between 2001 and 2011. S. Stanley Young of the U.S. National Institute of Statistical Sciences has estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of those observational studies can be replicated. "Within a culture that pressures scientists to produce rather than discover, the outcome is a biased and impoverished science in which most published results are either unconfirmed genuine discoveries or unchallenged fallacies," four British neuroscientists bleakly concluded in a 2014 editorial for the journal AIMS Neuroscience.

Some alarmed researchers refer to this situation as the "reproducibility crisis," but Sarewitz convincingly argues that they are not getting to the real source of the rot. The problem starts with the notion, propounded in the MIT technologist Vannevar Bush's famous 1945 report Science: The Endless Frontier, that scientific progress "results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown." Sarewitz calls this a "beautiful lie."

Why it is a lie? Because it makes "it easy to believe that scientific imagination gives birth to technological progress, when in reality technology sets the agenda for science, guiding it in its most productive directions and providing continual tests of its validity, progress, and value." He adds, "Technology keeps science honest." Basically, research detached from trying to solve well-defined problems spins off self-validating, career-enhancing publications like those breast cancer studies that actually were using skin cancer cells. Yet no patients were cured of breast cancer. The "truth test" of technology is the most certain way to tell if the knowledge allegedly being generated by research is valid. "The scientific phenomena must be real or the technologies would not work," Sarewitz explains.

Sarewitz points out that the military-industrial complex—the very force from which Vannevar Bush was eager to escape—generated the targeted scientific results that led to many of the technologies that have made the modern world possible, including digital computers, jet aircraft, cell phones, the internet, lasers, satellites, GPS, digital imagery, and nuclear and solar power. He's not suggesting that the Department of Defense should be in charge of scientific research. He's arguing that research should be aimed more directly at solving specific problems, as opposed to a system where researchers torture some cells and lab mice and then publish a dubious paper. An example of the kind of targeted scientific work he favors is the National Breast Cancer Coalition's Artemis project, whose goal is to develop an effective breast cancer vaccine by 2020.

"Academic science, especially, has become an onanistic enterprise worthy of Swift or Kafka," Sarewitz declares. He wants end-user constituencies—patient advocacy groups, environmental organizations, military planners—outside of academia to have a much bigger say in setting the goals for publicly funded research. "The questions you ask are likely to be very different if your end goal is to solve a concrete problem, rather than only to advance understanding," he argues. "That's why the symbiosis between science and technology is so powerful: the technology provides focus and discipline for the science."

And there's a bigger problem. In his 1972 essay "Science and Trans-Science," the physicist Alvin Weinberg noted that science is increasingly being asked to address such issues as the deleterious side effects of new technologies, or how to deal with social problems such as crime and poverty. These are questions that "though they are, epistemologically speaking, questions of fact and can be stated in the language of science, they are unanswerable by science; they transcend science." Such trans-scientific questions inevitably involve values, assumptions, and ideology. Consequently, attempting to answer trans-scientific questions, Weinberg wrote, "inevitably weaves back and forth across the boundary between what is known and what is not known and knowable."

"The great thing about trans-science is that you can keep on doing research," Sarewitz observes, "You can...create the sense that we're gaining knowledge...without getting any closer to a final or useful answer." Some contemporary trans-scientific questions: "Are biotech crops necessary to feed the world?" "Does exposure to synthetic chemicals deform penises?" "Do open markets benefit all countries?" "What will the costs of man-made global warming be in a century?" "What can be done about rising obesity rates?" "Does standardized testing improve educational outcomes?" All of these depend on debatable assumptions or are subject to confounders that make it impossible to be sure that the correlations uncovered are actually causal.

Consider climate change. "The vaunted scientific consensus around climate change," notes Sarewitz, "applies only to a narrow claim about the discernible human impact on global warming. The minute you get into questions about the rate and severity of future impacts, or the costs of and best pathways for addressing them, no semblance of consensus among experts remains." Nevertheless, climate "models spew out endless streams of trans-scientific facts that allow for claims and counterclaims, all apparently sanctioned by science, about how urgent the problem is and what needs to be done."

Vast numbers of papers have been published attempting to address these trans-scientific questions, Sarewitz observes. They provide anyone engaged in these debates with overabundant supplies of "peer-reviewed and thus culturally validated truths that can be selected and assembled in whatever ways are necessary to support the position and policy solution of your choice." It's confirmation bias all the way down.

The advent of big data also worries Sarewitz. Dredging massive new datasets generated by an already badly flawed research enterprise will produce huge numbers of meaningless correlations. Since the integrity of the output is dependent on the integrity of input, big data science risks generating a flood of instances of garbage in, garbage out, or GIGO. Sarewitz warns, "The scientific community and its supporters are now busily creating the infrastructure and the expectations that can make unreliability, knowledge chaos, and multiple conflicting truths the essence of science's legacy."

Ultimately, science can be rescued if researchers can be directed more toward solving real world problems rather than pursuing the beautiful lie. Sarewitz argues that in the future, the most valuable scientific institutions will be those that are held accountable and give scientists incentives to solve urgent concrete problems. The goal of such science will be to produce new useful technologies, not new useless studies. In the meantime, Sarewitz has made a strong case that contemporary "science isn't self-correcting, it's self-destructing."

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  • tarran||

    It's strange... the more the state funds and promotes science, the more broken it gets!

  • colorblindkid||

    Well that would make it the only thing that the government funded and messed up in the process. The solution is obviously more funding.

  • Woodchippin' 4 Jesus||

    Apparently you thought wrong.

  • ThomasD||

    A libertarian should not support public funding for scientific research.

    A libertarian should adamantly oppose public funding for propaganda masquerading as science.

  • Freedomist||

    How do you know colorblindkid is a libertarian? Aside from that, the beauty of science is that it can be used to invalidate or discredit previously accepted hypotheses, without necessarily having to propose a replacement hypothesis. In this sense, science can be self-correcting, but there is no guarantee it will. Two problems with science is the of possibility of the flawed formulation of experiments, and the misinterpretation of their results. It is similar to the authoring of flawed laws that are later repealed or reformed to improve them and/or eliminate their flaws.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Among those flawed laws is the law of gravity, which is smooshing my body into the Earth, a LOT more than I would like! This "law of gravity" being a mere social convention (see my links that prove it, to be generated tomorrow, if I get more funding grants), we need a REVISED law of gravity! The current law is clearly biased!

  • Longtobefree||

    Absolutely! You should be funded by a massive grant of tax dollars. As soon as you make up (oops, I mean publish) your data and findings, cars will become lighter as well, instantly improving mileage, thereby reducing carbon footprints, and thereby saving the planet from Global warming/climate change/tomorrows new name for it. Good job!

  • plusafdotcom||

  • LV||

    Yes, that is correct. As true today as it ever was, and it has ALWAYS been true.

  • KamaK||

    In fairness to science... When someone cannot replicate an experiment, this is an example of science 'working'.

  • LV||

    Such an uncommon cause / effect, something we just have never seen before.....

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The hoary 'theoretical' vs. 'applied' debate. To be honest, I don't see where Sarewitz is contributing anything new to this age-old tension.

  • Citizen X||

    Who you callin' "hoary," HM?

  • Ron Bailey||

    HM: I think you're too quick to dismiss Sarewitz (perhaps I have not summarized his views properly). He is trying to analyze how and why the research enterprise has gotten to the point of producing so many wrong and useless studies.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    He is trying to analyze how and why the research enterprise has gotten to the point of producing so many wrong and useless studies.

    Something that has occurred since the founding of the Royal Academy. And, as the Renegade alludes to down thread, Sarewitz kind of stacks the deck by focusing on certain disciplines. I'd like to see Sarewitz argue that the " 'truth test' of technology is the most certain way to tell if the knowledge allegedly being generated by research is valid" to a room full of mathematicians.

    And I say this as a scholar of applied linguistics. Indeed, I recognize that the work done in theoretical linguistics (that is, the study of language in and of itself) provides those of us in the applied field new conceptual/theoretical "tools" in which we can apply towards the solving of real-world problems, like language acquisition, natural language processing, corpus linguistics, etc.

  • grrizzly||

    Given that mathematics is not science, I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I knew someone would try that line of dunderheaded reasoning.

    Try doing science without the insights of theoretical mathematics. Then tell us how that goes.

  • ||

    Ugh, I spent much of last night slogging through a review of Airy functions. You owed me a trigger warning.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Even though I'm not a historian, I use Chicago style.

    No trigger warnings here.

  • ||

    That sounds like the mathematics of the Fairey realm.

  • ||

    Airy functions, that is.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Akira||

    You know who else was radical and extreme?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I am the first to admit math is not science.

    No one is saying math is science. The discussion is about the nature of epistemology. Again, Sarewitz argues "the 'truth test' of technology is the most certain way to tell if the knowledge allegedly being generated by research is valid".

    As someone who studied math, I believe you would agree that to state that the knowledge generated by empirical observation which is then applied toward some real-world problem is somehow more "valid" (and again, note that Sarewitz is using the term "validity" incorrectly) would not sit well with a group of mathematicians. Pure mathematics is supposed to be the "language of the universe" no? Most mathematicians that I have interacted with have maintained that the only pure, "valid" truths are mathematical truths. That the validity of a mathematical proof, as a knowledge, needs a real world test of technological application would be seen as risible.

    Again, this is not an argument about methodology. It's about the nature of knowledge. I don't agree that scientific knowledge and mathematical knowledge are in any way qualitatively different.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    As a linguist, you will appreciate this analogy: math is syntactic truth, and science is semantic truth. You can't say one is more valid than the other, because they are entirely different things.

    Construction Grammarians would disagree. :) And I think the analogy of Construction Grammar (CxG) is helpful here. Just as linguistics constructions link form with meaning, we can say scientific theories link the rational truths of mathematics with the empirical observations of science.

    CxG makes no inherent distinction between form and function/meaning, as both are interrelated and inseparable. Which I recognize you are arguing in the end, but to divide truth into syntactic and semantic, one can argue that you are making a distinction without a difference. Indeed, by stating there are different forms of "truth", you arguing against Sarewitz's on criticism that "The scientific community and its supporters are now busily creating the infrastructure and the expectations that can make unreliability, knowledge chaos, and multiple conflicting truths the essence of science's legacy." Stating that there are "mathematical truths" and "scientific truths" and whatever is the type of post-positivism that Sarewitz is arguing against.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I look forward to it.

  • ||

    He is worse than a progtard, but if you enjoyed 'Metaphors we live by' you should also try to slog your way through 'Philosophy in the Flesh'.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Excepting the hole that is Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, mathematics does not need empirical results to validate its theorems. I can prove that all differentiable functions are continuous without having to resort to any empirical evidence.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I can prove that all differentiable functions are continuous without having to resort to any empirical evidence.

    Right. And my original argument is that Sarewitz would say that the knowledge resulting from your proof is not as valid as the knowledge generated by the application of that knowledge towards solving a problem in the real world. I stated, epistemologically, that many mathematicians would have a problem with that sort of full-on empiricism. I fully recognize that mathematics and sciences are two different disciplines, but they ultimately share a certain view of what knowledge is and how we come to know it. It was a mathematician who came up with the concept of Newton's Flaming Laser Sword, after all.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    But I can prove lots of things about Group Theory, how groups behave, how the transforms act, etc. Then somebody notices that Crystallography is basically applied Group Theory. We know how groups behave so bada boom we now know lots about Crystallography.

    See, mathematics is part of the universe to.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Ok now, I read the article. Yes I agree with the premise.

  • HenryC||

    Einstein rarely did anything else than math and though experiments using a pen or pencil. Other people did experiments. Are you saying Einstein was not a scientist? There is still as good bit of theoretical science that we have no idea how to experiment on.

  • grrizzly||

    Mulatto, you're way off in this debate. What makes a discipline science is that you can formulate a falsifiable hypothesis and then check whether its predictions are correct. Scientific theories that lend themselves to real-world applications are tested much more often than those that are mostly theoretical. That's pretty much what Sarewitz says.

  • grrizzly||

    I have degrees in both math and economics. The former deals with tautologies that cannot be falsified -- it's too strict to be science. The latter has trouble with predictions -- not strict enough to be science. But there's nothing wrong with pursuing research in either of the fields.

  • Fubini Baby||

    I have degrees in both math and economics. The former deals with tautologies that cannot be falsified -- it's too strict to be science. The latter has trouble with predictions -- not strict enough to be science.

    This is incorrect. Math is "not science" because its propositions are not empirically testable by experiment or observation. Virtually none of math deals with tautologies -- nearly every mathematical statement depends on assumptions which may or may not be true.

    There's no reason economics research must be unscientific. Certainly a lot of it is poorly done and unscientific, but there's no inherent reason why it must be.

  • HenryC||

    Much of mathematics is true by definition. The definition of a real number is a truth. The definition of an imaginary number is a truth. There are truths because they are designed that way. Science uses a set of definitions(mathematics) to test reality. Read the Philosophy of science by Whitehead.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    What makes a discipline science is that you can formulate a falsifiable hypothesis and then check whether its predictions are correct. Scientific theories that lend themselves to real-world applications are tested much more often than those that are mostly theoretical.

    You are misreading my argument; that is not the premise being argued. Please see my reply to Chipper up-thread. Sarewitz made a specific claim about epistemology, and that is what I am criticizing.

  • Fubini Baby||

    Scientific theories that lend themselves to real-world applications are tested much more often than those that are mostly theoretical. That's pretty much what Sarewitz says.

    No doubt it's harder to catch somebody publishing dishonest results, or mistaken results of sloppy research, if nobody cares about the results. But that doesn't seem to be Sarewitz' point. He's saying to dump all pure research, which is baloney.

  • ThomasD||

    "...that line of dunderheaded reasoning..."

    Applied linguistics, huh?

    Ok.

    Well, I sure learned something about language today.

  • Rocinante||

  • Fubini Baby||

    But his solution is ridiculous and won't solve the problem. Tomorrow's applied research can't happen without today's pure research. Numerous technologies we have today could not possibly have been invented without the contributions of pure science from 100 years ago such as relativity and quantum theory.

    If a study is nonreproducible, that points to either sloppy methodology or academic dishonesty in the original study. I'm not sure where he gets off blaming it on insufficient "applicability" of the results of the research. True, it's harder to catch somebody fudging results if nobody cares about their research, but that's not what's happening in the cases you cite.

  • plusafdotcom||

    Ron, I had a similar 'problem' with the article...

    Sarewitz (or you) appeared to be saying that, because of so many flawed studies and reports, 'research should be directed more towards real-world problems.'

    Maybe I misunderstood your point, but my first reaction was that 'isn't most 'research' directed Towards Real-World Problems,' but the underlying Problem might be that not enough of the flawed testing or conclusions are brought out into the sunlight for good old disinfection?

    Unless someone's got a 'research sinecure' and can burn their funding, not caring what results or lack thereof they publish, I've pictured 'research' as virtually always being directed towards a known problem and towards solutions.

    Of course, many of the points, such as MMGW are, imnsho, of a different, reality-challenged universe, and the studies and reports' conclusions virtually always depend on biased or fudged data, but that's a different and very long 'conversation.'

    Feedback?
    Thanks!

  • JW||

    The tension is settled?

    I dunno. "Science" seems to be the debate-stopping strawman for every slactivist who needs to shove yet something else down the throat of humanity, whether it likes it or not. I haven't seen too much refuting these tactics in the popular press; just whining about how anti-science anyone professing skepticism in their claims is.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Better alt-text: The Bunsen Identity!

  • ||

    I note that real science (chemistry, physics, biology...) is hardly mentioned. Just nutrition, "trans-science", and some fringe medical stuff. Epidemiology and nutrition are completely expected to have noisy and uncertain data because they can't ethically or practically be run with controls.

  • Ron Bailey||

    (R): Actually a lot of biology is implicated in trans-scientific questions - genetics right down through ecosystems.

  • ||

    Genetics? No. The impact of genetics on social issues, sure. I seriously don't think there's a replicability issue with, for example, DNA sequencing and expression. "Implication" is the key word there, and that's not science.

  • BYODB||

    'Biology' is in constant flux from year to year, yet what qualifies as a 'liver' does not.

    My thoughts on the matter are that our scientific community has perverse incentives at the moment, which I think was ultimately part of Sarewitz's point.

    It is a non-debatable fact that academics and scientists operate under the theory of 'publish or perish' and that by itself is enough of an incentive to explain the massive increase in bad studies that are cranked out in a huge volume by an ever increasing amount of 'academics' that simply don't want a real job.

  • Propaganda Czar||

    That and funding priorities that influence research: Scientists follow the grant money if they want to stay relevant. And...

    The collapse of peer-review systems.

    Journals refusing to publish negative results or issue retractions.

    Positions and fellowships offered based on positive-results, not negative.

    Refusal of institutions of science to hold many accountable for poor research and unethical behavior, especially if they are popular.

    Collusion to silence, marginalize and destroy dissenters of consensus views.

    Intermingling of science and politics.

    No interest in developing dialogues with citizens over research that influences policy and public health.

    I love science, but I'm not optimistic these issues will be rectified any time soon.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    "Part Three, that part of formal scientific method called experimentation, is sometimes thought of by romantics as all of science itself because that's the only part with much visual surface. They see lots of test tubes and bizarre equipment and people running around making discoveries. They do not see the experiment as part of a larger intellectual process and so they often confuse experiments with demonstrations, which look the same. ... The TV scientist who mutters sadly, "The experiment is a failure; we have failed to achieve what we had hoped for," is suffering mainly from a bad scriptwriter. An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don't prove anything one way or another."

    from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.

    Part I is statement of the problem and Part II is formulation of hypothesis.

  • BigT||

    Biology is very much a statistical science at the organism level (not at the cellular level). It's difficult to obtain representative and statistically significant sample sizes for large organisms. With increasing pressure to publish, corners are cut and partial results are published. Add in political pressures and you have a petri dish for weak or faulty scientific papers.

  • ||

    This is the fault of capitalism. If there was no pressure to obtain actual results, then the researchers could spend all their time and money getting it right, instead of rushing to publish.

  • Bra Ket||

    I assume this is sarcasm. The majority of academic funding is from govt. Plenty other countries have systems that are are almost totally centrally-planned, and they still churn out garbage. Often it's even worse since they pin academic promotion directly to publication count.

    Private investors have a much lower opinion of much of the research than the govt funding agencies do. For example VC's put no value in the results of animal studies anymore due to their horrible track record lately. There's an actual effect of market forces.

  • ||

    I assume this is sarcasm.

    It was.

  • Hank Phillips||

    In my work is a search engine takes me to a website owned by a government entity I never waste a second getting outta there. It is a safe bet that all such sites are timesucks containing NO information whatsoever other than the textual content of evil laws or moronic speeches.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Epidemiology and nutrition are completely expected to have noisy and uncertain data because they can't ethically or practically be run with controls.

    What are you talking about?

    *hides research colonies*

  • ||

    If it weren't for this character limit, I'd tell the story of the Aspy research professor getting pissed at some German toxicologists. I'll just give the punchline: "I can't isolate ten thousand people on one island and dose them with endocrine disruptors for generations, and another ten thousand people on another island and not dose them. This isn't the Third Reich!"

    Much silence.

  • Bubba Jones||

    His best/worst examples are from biology. It was Amgen IIRC who declared that academic biologists had been publishing artifacts for years.

    Academic biologists will typically craft a pet theory and then run an experiment to demonstrate the theory when they should be trying to disprove it.

    The grad student runs the experiment until it "works" and then they publish it. If the experiment fails, you get a new grad student. Not a new theory.

  • Fubini Baby||

    But that's academic dishonesty, which Sarewitz doesn't seem interested in addressing. His own pet cause seems to be eliminating pure research.

  • CE||

    Real science has always proven to be wrong in the long run (or incomplete).

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Oh Danny boy! The pipes, the pipes are calling.

  • ||

    Damn, is this the Day of Bailey or what?

    You go, Ron!

  • ||

    But, you know, don't take a self-driving car to see a play about Andrew Jackson.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Especially if you're not immunized!

  • Ron Bailey||

    CMW: But I won that debacle!

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    You lost while advocating torts for damages due to infection, when you failed to explain how courts could determine conclusively that Child A infected Child B, and furthermore that Child B was not infected from any other vector.

    The whole scheme is unenforceable, unless you are willing to set up a national DNA registry, and I'm not even sure that would work.

    Alternatively you could just sue the non-immunized child closest in the seating chart to the infected child, and have that child's parents pay up. But they all go to the bathroom, and all touch the same bathroom door handle, so I guess you would group-sue all the immunized children who used the bathroom on that day? Maybe group-sue every child in the school who wasn't immunized every time a schoolchild gets sick?

    It's a legal and philosophical mess, and you should seriously think through how these torts would work before suggesting such a harebrained scheme.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    Supply and demand; subsidize anything and it will be overproduced and devalued.

    I'd bet dollars to donuts the good:bad ratio would improve dramatically if government weren't paying for it and directing it.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    ^^ THIS ²

    Look at what it's done to the production quantity, quality, and value of a BA degree.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The questions you ask are likely to be very different if your end goal is to solve a concrete problem, rather than only to advance understanding," he argues. "That's why the symbiosis between science and technology is so powerful: the technology provides focus and discipline for the science."

    I guess it's too controversial for him to use the word "market" instead of "technology".

    "That's why the symbiosis between science and [the market] is so powerful: the [market] provides focus and discipline for the science".

    When it comes to scientific academia, being free from the constraints of the market is a big part of what they're talking about when it comes to academic freedom. Advocating that outside patient interest groups, etc. be given greater say in research funding is far less controversial than saying that the government should shut off the money spigot and these scientists should either teach or find something useful to do with their lives.

  • TGGeko||

    So, when The New Atlantis publishes an article saying that the foundations of scientific thought is crumbling, Reason doesn't even blink, but when they publish an article saying that the debate on transexuals is muddy and unclear, then it's just an opinion piece, and not even peer reviewed!

  • Ron Bailey||

    T: That's not how I read my colleague Scott Shackford's take on the New Atlantis sexuality articles.

  • Jay Dubya||

    Pretty sure that no one who reads above a third grade level took it that way.

  • Bra Ket||

    The "truth test" of technology is the most certain way to tell if the knowledge allegedly being generated by research is valid. "The scientific phenomena must be real or the technologies would not work," Sarewitz explains.

    Shorter version: advancing technology leads to progress on basic science, not the other way around.

    Further technological advancement makes science cheaper and therefore more possible. For example the incremental improvements in computers are what has led many many modern scientific discoveries. I would argue that what we consider basic science research today should more accurately be called impractical science research, as people are attempting to fund advancements while they are still impractical and expensive to study. It's yet another way to see on the inefficiency provided by central planning.

  • Fubini Baby||

    Well, it's a virtuous cycle. Pure research results in finding A, which much later is realized to have practical application B, which makes it possible to produce pure research result C, etc.

    It's true that searching for quarks and other fundamental particles would be impossible without the "practical" science of electricity generation, but that practical science would not have come to be without geeks running wire between vats of acid and shocking frog legs centuries before.

  • Bra Ket||

    This is exactly the view I am describing as backwards. Craftsmen improving their products were the starting point. These are the people without whom there would be no progress. From there increasingly general technological principles are worked out by engineers and applied researchers. Basic science researchers with no application in mind are just a high-risk and inefficient use of resources, fishing for solutions they hope a problem will turn up for someday.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is why Professor Feynman always said that science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts!

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Most Scientific Findings Are Wrong or Useless

    The trouble with science is that it is not State controlled. The private sector has not done much to help the collective's health as history has shown. If science was State controlled, then our obvious betters controlling us would be able to ask for even more money from us for the sake of the health of the collective. This way we can spend trillions of dollars and never find a cure for anything or create a vaccine, but at least tens of thousands of people will be able to work for The State and reap a wonderful salary and a shitload of benefits. They will not have to find cures. They will just have to show up to work, be able to fill out forms accurately, and kiss the right person's ass in order to keep their jobs. Plus, history has shown The State has cured and eliminated all vestiges of cancer, diabetes, AIDS, etc from human history. One can only guess at how long The State will find cures for such lethal conditions as male pattern baldness, toenail fungus, and hangnails that still plague all of us today. Therefore let us all eliminate the prehistoric idea of private medicine and allow The State to cure to take care of us we can all live healthier, longer lives.

  • wef||

    Implicitly spreading doubts about the urgency of climate change? I am shocked by this denialist dog-whistling. Next thing you know, someone might start wondering about the HIV-model of AIDS. Or even - surely it couldn't come to this - but slippery slopes sometimes happen, you know - there might be doubts about the solid consensus regarding gender dysphoria.

  • Jackand Ace||

    On climate change:

    "The minute you get into questions about the rate and severity of future impacts, or the costs of and best pathways for addressing them, no semblance of consensus among experts remains."

    About the rate and severity of impacts, science says it gets more dire everyday. And science ranges those things, as it's the best they can do. But science is clear...there is the real possibility of dire impacts.

    The costs for addressing them? Hate to break it to Daniel, but science steers clear of policy. So it's up to politicians to determine what will be done, and economists to say what the costs and benefits will be.

    Seems like Daniel expects science to lay out the perfect answer for him, so he sounds like the skeptic who says we can't act until then. It's not happening. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't address the problem.

  • Sevo||

    "About the rate and severity of impacts, science says it gets more dire everyday."
    So you admit it changes daily and cherry-pick to ignore the studies which point out not one prediction has come true? Yep, settled science right there.

    "The costs for addressing them? Hate to break it to Daniel, but science steers clear of policy."
    You're a lying piece of shit: "At the end of 2008, Hansen stated five priorities that he felt then President-elect Obama should adopt "for solving the climate and energy problems, while stimulating the economy": efficient energy use, renewable energy, a smart grid, generation IV nuclear reactors and carbon capture and storage. Regarding nuclear, he expressed opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, stating that the $25 Billion (US) surplus held in the Nuclear Waste Fund "should be used to develop fast reactors that consume nuclear waste, and thorium reactors to prevent the creation of new long-lived nuclear waste."[91]"
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hansen

    "Seems like Daniel expects science to lay out the perfect answer for him, so he sounds like the skeptic who says we can't act until then."
    Seems like you have many voices in your head. You should seek professional help.

  • Bra Ket||

    You seem to be simply agreeing with him on the shortcoming he lists, but acting like you have posed some kind of counter-arguments.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Just pointing out that in one case he doesn't understand that science never is about perfection, and in the other it's not an issue for science. I don't agree with much he says.

  • Sevo||

    Jackand Ace|8.26.16 @ 10:49PM|#
    "Just pointing out that in one case he doesn't understand that science never is about perfection, and in the other it's not an issue for science. I don't agree with much he says."
    And yet: "But science is clear...there is the real possibility of dire impacts."
    You are a pathetic piece of shit.

  • BigT||

    haha! Jackass actually makes a relevant point - with so little certainty we should not be making grave decisions about the future. More importantly, with such a poor track record of predictions the warmists are the least credible people to listen to about policy.

  • wef||

    the tendentiousness is strong with this one

  • Stephrising||

    Most people who are diehard science believers tend to confuse it with engineering. Case in point: http://helpmebro.com/posts/T0zP5OqjOa

  • LV||

    But! But! "Science" is just a word. We can make it mean what we want it to mean, right? No need to prove it, we can just pretend it means something, right? (says all on the left, ever!)

  • Jackand Ace||

    You know, Ronald, Sarewitz is a bit of a phony, don't you think?

    In an article subtitled "most scientists are Democrats, and that's a problem." So who introduced politics into science? Well, that would be Sarewitz. He says this about climate science:

    "Or could it be that disagreements over climate change are essentially political—and that science is just carried along for the ride? For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth. These are the sort of things that most Democrats welcome, and most Republicans hate. No wonder the Republicans are suspicious of the science."

    Just slightly conspiratorial. There really aren't any disagreements in the science community in regard to the dangers of AGW, is there Ronald? So climate scientists just get taken for a ride, according to your source...they're not stating clearly and honestly their findings. They are are part of a fraud, I guess, because that is what it would have to be of 90% of climate scientists are responding to politics and not science.

    What a joke. But typical from you.

    What a joke. But I'm not surprised this is the type of guy you cite.

  • Jackand Ace||

  • Sevo||

    "Just slightly conspiratorial"
    No conspiracy involved, other than the voices in your head.

    "There really aren't any disagreements in the science community in regard to the dangers of AGW, is there Ronald? :
    Why did you change the subject? Are you incapable of arguing the point?

    What a joke, but typical of you.

  • LV||

    If the "science" of global warming was accurate, they (you know, the proponents of the theory) could repeat the proof of same, over and over again, ad infinitum. Guess what is is that they do NOT do? They do NOT prove it, over, and over again, with easily verified evidence. In FACT, they have admitted to a "pause" of nearly 20 years, cannot explain it, but insist the planet is warming at an "alarming" and "unprecedent" rate, except the last nearly 20 years and anything you care to look at it with scientific eye, but "the children". Yeah, no.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Try keeping up, LV. There is no pause. 2015 was the warmest year on record. And there is a real good chance that 2016 will break that record. And last month was the hottest month in recorded history.

    Try something else.

  • Sevo||

    Jackand Ace|8.26.16 @ 10:35PM|#
    "Try keeping up, LV. There is no pause. 2015 was the warmest year on record."

    Try keeping up, Jack. Moving the goalposts is typical and not very convincing.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Oh, and the rate of warming is indeed unprecedented in thousands of years

    "As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming."

    I'm not surprised you don't know these things. Ronald only posts studies and articles that show skepticism about the problem we face. Like the one above.

  • Jackand Ace||

  • Sevo||

    Jackand Ace|8.26.16 @ 10:39PM|#
    "Oh, and the rate of warming is indeed unprecedented in thousands of years"

    Oh, and I'm sure you are ignorant enough to think that's relevant.

  • Jackand Ace||

    One more

    "With 2014 in the record books, this means that 13 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. Also, this marks the 38th consecutive year with global temperatures above average. In comparison, the last time we set a global record cold temperature for the year was way back in 1911."

    And since then, 2015 was even warmer, and 2016 likely will be as well. Keep hanging on that pause stuff.

  • Jackand Ace||

  • Sevo||

    Jackand Ace|8.26.16 @ 10:46PM|#
    "One more
    "With 2014 in the record books, this means that 13 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000."
    Yes, and?

    "And since then, 2015 was even warmer, and 2016 likely will be as well. Keep hanging on that pause stuff."
    Keep lying.

  • Sevo||

    And you've yet to address your blatant lie (above) regarding 'scientists' not being involved in policy.
    Is that because you hope no one will call you on your most recent lie? Or is that because you're so stupid you don't even realized you're lying?
    Which one, Jack?

  • antiquarian||

    I'm rather surprised that you don't mention Richard Feynman's classic address to Caltech students (I think it was) titled "Cargo Cult Science". There he cuts to the core of the normative errors (a concept Megan McArdle talked about in her book) at the heart of this bad science. Normative errors are those which show that you haven't absorbed the core values of the profession, and these scientists are, instead, hewing to their own values-- getting published, keeping their job, getting cited, getting tenure, getting grants. Truly knowing things? Way down the list.

  • ||

    This is the Ron I love.

    Thank you very much Sir.

  • ||

    "...the most valuable scientific institutions will be those that are held accountable..."

    You touched on the heart of it here. You may recall me whining over the years about the unaccountability both with regards to money and findings. The area where this was most visible to me was in climate science and the politicization of that area of research, I have been warning that it would corrupt other fields and taint the reputation of science as a whole. I was dismayed to read your article 'Broken Science' and discover that it wasn't going to, it already had. The problem was much more pervasive than I had imagined.

  • ||

    Also, this article gives a better overview than I previously had. This is not something that spread from climate science to the other fields of study, it is a rot that infected the whole body of science at once, a systemic problem.

    I vaguely remember a kerfuffle some 20 years ago where research scientists for private medical companies were testifying before congress, who were considering changing the rules, in support of their being allowed to work both as consultants for the FDA and as private researchers. IIRC those consultants were responsible for deciding where and how much tax money was given to the researchers as subsidies. Foxes making the case both for their guarding the hen house and being paid to eat chicken. Their case amounted to "You cant change the way things are, we like it this way."

    It appears that govt funding science is the source of this rot. Cutting that off would mean private companies doing the research on their own carefully watched dime and directing it towards solving real world problems that the market would reward.

  • Dinerboy||

    Or, we could simply question the entire premise of "publicly funded research." When people spend their own money, they are more likely to have goals and targets in mind, and to call BS on research that's more puffery than substance.

  • Mauser||

    "Does exposure to synthetic chemicals deform penises?"

    Well gee whiz, now we are on to the hard science, these are some deep questions.

  • CE||

    Couldn't they just take a vote, and determine what the scientific consensus is, then leave it as settled science?

  • buybuydandavis||

    Incentives.

    The people paying the bills have agendas other than finding the truth. So the people doing the research have agendas other than finding the truth.

  • JFree||

    I don't understand why this conclusion is so surprising. Science was originally based on the empirical notion that whatever it concludes about 'reality' is tentative and temporary - and only 'true' relative to whatever knowledge immediately preceded it. To use an analogy, science is based on work in pencil - not pen.

    The transmogrification of 'science' into something that is or should be 'truth' is nothing more than faith/belief applied now to 'science' rather than 'religion'. With the fatal flaw that this new 'scientism' does not have a)any interest in memory of its own past mistakes or b)any necessary audit trail of its own past work or c)any religious notion of man as inherently flawed which (in theory) leads to humility about everything.

    At core, the Enlightenment and post-enlightenment was little more than humans transferring our need for faith from men in black cassocks to men in white lab coats. And the need for faith is not some uggabugga superstitious carryover. It is completely rational in any world where no one human can possibly know everything. Of all people, libertarians should understand and be sympathetic to this reality.

  • SIV||

    the Department of Defense should be in charge of scientific research

    Only the kind that is funded by the government.

  • ||

    Anybody notice the irony to that in order to demonstrate how much of science studies are useless, it was necessary to use the tools of......science to do so?!

  • Trollificus||

    I don't think that's really irony. How does one show an arithmetic sum to be in error, except through mathematical demonstration? How is the effect of economic policy, good or bad, to be analyzed except through...economics?

    Besides the obvious necessity of applying appropriate areas of expertise, in the case of science we simply see the difference between scientific method correctly and incorrectly applied. Incentives that work against the application of "hypothesis/experimentation/objective analysis of the observed results" will inevitably produce "bad science". (Note: NOT "bad results". An experiment that produces results that disconfirm or fail to support a pet hypothesis has still produced results. The application of .judgements like "bad", "failed", or "disappointing" show an unscientific rooting interest in the success of a particular hypothesis. More of a personal problem than anything to do with science.)

    ps) I was delighted, in a long-ago English class, to use "advocacy science" as an example of an oxymoron

  • Narrator||

    Please change the title of this article. "Science" is a far larger umbrella than the couple of disciplines you mention.

  • IdPnSD||

    "Within a culture that pressures scientists to produce rather than discover…" - This is very correct, as long as money is there this pressure will be there. Money is false, because money is not an object of nature. How can you create anything true by using something false like money? You cannot.

    Same is true for real numbers. Real numbers are false, because they are not objects of nature. Therefore entire mathematics must be false. Since physics uses this false math, physics cannot be correct also. Recognize that money is a real number also. Thus there cannot exist any truth in the mainstream. Ayn Rand correctly said - "Truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it."

    "… it easy to believe that scientific imagination gives birth to technological progress,…" - There is heaven and hell difference between science and engineering. No science can work in any engineering. You probably realize that every math and physics theory has the following structure: If these assumptions hold then you will get these results.

    Now I am sure you will know that nature cannot accept any assumptions, therefore all engineering activities will automatically reject all assumptions, and so no theory can work in engineering. Because we use false science, our engineering never works properly, it is full of patches and kludges, and therefore it is unreliable, and pollutes the environment.

    Take a look at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/ for many examples of false science.

  • برامج انترنت||

    Please change the title of this article. "Science" is a far larger umbrella than the couple of disciplines you mention.

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  • Bonnie Blum||

    My mother was diagnosed with ALS in May 2014. Her doctor put her on riluzole, letting her know there was no cure but the medication might provide her a few more months of delayed symptoms. ALS progresses at different rates and affects different body parts first. My mother, being 73 at the time, fell into a category of what they call "fast progression" (older female). Her arms weakened first, then her hands, her mouth, and throat, and finally her lungs. Throughout her two-and-a-half-year ordeal, she was able to walk with assistance nothing was really working to help her condition.I took her off the riluzole (with the doctor's knowledge) and started her on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis herbal formula i ordered from Health Herbal Clinic, her symptoms totally declined over a 5 weeks use of the ALS disease natural herbal formula. She's now almost 76 and doing very well, the disease is totally reversed!! Visit there website www. healthherbalclinic. net

  • johnsmith||

    Science and technology is a course that is set to eventually destroy all of humanity in time. In the short term, this NEVER looks to be the case. But in the extreme long term, it is undoubtedly the case. For instance. All man has ever needed was necessity alone. Food. Shelter. Clothing to stay warm. Shoes to protect his feet. Companionship for a healthy mind. And so on. It was true thousands of years ago. It is still true today. The same food. The same shoes. The same mind. All else is completely unnecessary. And only serves to distract man away from his basic existence. Placing him in a bubble. Blinded and deaf from his own fundamental purpose in life. In the present, science always seems to "improve" our life. Better shoes. Better clothes. Better food. That is where we FAIL MISERABLY. Because better anything is already replacing necessity with non-necessity. Redefining it as necessity. Thus, we live in a false existence. This is revealed as SELF. It is like comparing the difference between a man who has never looked in a mirror VERSUS a man who has. This can also be compared to the unlimited selfless nature of Jesus Christ versus the self serving man. The mere logic of science already demonstrates the destruction of man. If might take time. But its inevitable. The Scriptures state that GOD will eventually abolish death. But He cannot abolish death unless ALL life is first abolished to prevent another death. This is where science comes in.

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