Problems in Science Research
Although the scientific method is our best method for discovering
the truth, there are some problems.
Misconduct is the main cause of life-sciences retractions:
A survey published in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
has found that two-thirds of retracted life-sciences papers were
stricken from the scientific record because of misconduct such as
fraud or suspected fraud -- and that journals sometimes soft-pedal
The analysis revealed that fraud or suspected fraud was responsible
for 43% of the retractions. Other types of misconduct - duplicate
publication and plagiarism - accounted for 14% and 10% of retractions,
respectively. Only 21% of the papers were retracted because of error
Social-priming research needs "daisy chain" of replication.
In light of the fact that classic priming studies claiming
subtle cues can unconsciously influence our thoughts
or behaviour cannot be replicated,
Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman wants psychologists to spend
more time replicating each others' work.
This is related to a general problem with scientific research,
in that interesting news worthy results get a lot of attention
while follow up studies that have negative results are
Replication studies: Bad copy
Perhaps these offer some explanation for the problems:
Why do people love to say that correlation does not imply causation?
Quoting the last two paragraphs:
I wonder if it has to do with what the foible represents. When
we mistake correlation for causation, we find a cause that isn't
there. Once upon a time, perhaps, these sorts of errors - false
positives - were not so bad at all. If you ate a berry and
got sick, you'd have been wise to imbue your data with some
meaning. (Better safe than sorry.) Same goes for a red-hot
coal: one touch and you've got all the correlations that you
need. When the world is strange and scary, when nature bullies
and confounds us, it's far worse to miss a link than it is to
make one up. A false negative yields the greatest risk.
Now conditions are reversed. We're the bullies over nature
and less afraid of poison berries. When we make a claim about
causation, it's not so we can hide out from the world but so we
can intervene in it. A false positive means approving drugs that
have no effect, or imposing regulations that make no difference,
or wasting money in schemes to limit unemployment. As science
grows more powerful and government more technocratic, the
stakes of correlation-of counterfeit relationships and bogus
findings-grow ever larger. The false positive is now more
onerous than it's ever been. And all we have to fight it is
Does Biology Make us Liars?
in The New Republic, October 2012,
reviews the new book by author Robert Trivers,
The Folly of Fools:
The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life
Deception is rife in humans for the same reason it is in nature:
there are inbuilt clashes of interest, whether it be sexual strategy
when it comes to females and males, parental investment when it
comes to mothers and fathers, or resource allocation when it comes
to parents and offspring.
And concerning self-deception,
Trick yourself to trick another: what better way to conceal the
truth? Self-deception is not a defensive measure meant only to
make us feel better; it is a weapon instilled in us by natural
selection to help deceive others for our own good.