Caution: scientists at work


The New Scientist publishes a startling short article summarizing the findings of John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist, who

says that small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false. But even large, well—designed studies are not always right, meaning that scientists and the public have to be wary of reported findings.

"We should accept that most research findings will be refuted. Some will be replicated and validated. The replication process is more important than the first discovery," Ioannidis says.

In the paper, Ioannidis does not show that any particular findings are false. Instead, he shows statistically how the many obstacles to getting research findings right combine to make most published research wrong.

Science is vitally important to all of us. Scientists deserve respect for the important and demanding work they do. But science, a product of human beings, is flawed, and must always be subject to questioning, including by non—scientists. For too long, the irreligious have regarded scientists as akin to a new priesthood.

Many errors are not deliberate. But scientists, like the rest of us, are subject to greed, pride, and other deadly sins. The roster of corrupt instances of deliberate scientific deceptions is long and dishonorable. Appropriate caution must be used in evaluating scientific claims.

Hat tip:

Thomas Lifson  8 30 05