Thursday, November 16, 2017


In Medicine, the Science Has Stopped Working
Excerpt: Many scientific fields are facing a “replication crisis.” The modern scientific method is based on the idea that experiments can be replicated. The point of a scientific experiment is to isolate every possible cause from an experiment except the one under study, so that we can tease out the cause-and-effect relationships that go into the phenomena being studied. This means that a similar experiment conducted by different people should yield the same result. If a given study cannot be replicated, then the likelihood is very high that it is a fluke. The replication crisis in experimental psychology has been well publicized. But there is a replication crisis going on in bio-medicine at the moment too, and it is even worse. The rule of thumb in psychology is that around half of the experimental results cannot be replicated, but as the engineer and writer Will Wilson points out in an important article on the state of science, a landmark 2011 study from a team at Bayer trying to replicate seemingly important findings in pre-clinical cancer biology failed to replicate 75 percent of them. In another study, only 11 percent of the results could be replicated. (...)  In other words, a lot of the basic science that is used every day to do cancer research or discover new drugs is essentially junk.  (...)  And the problem is systemic. It’s one thing for some scientific challenges to be very difficult, so that progress is slow, grinding, and frustrating. But replicability is a foundation of the scientific method. Without it, the problem is not that scientists are tackling a hard problem, it’s that they don’t have the tools to even be sure they’re doing science at all. And yet we need the science to work.  (Unfortunately, while this article was aimed at bio-medical research studies, it is also an accurate criticism of other science-related issues, especially the ones that have become political flash-points in the past two decades or so [think of “climate” science, nuclear energy and technology, space policy, et cetera].  The whole point of “peer-review” is that one or more of those peers may choose to try to replicate the original work; if they can’t replicate it, they’re supposed to call “BS.”  In practice, the sheer expense and time needed for the duplicated effort is largely viewed as being wasted.  So, the “peers” simply accept whatever is politically convenient.  This is yet another way of begging for disaster.  The link may not be live.  Ron P.)

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