Weekly Roundup

In a must-read article for anyone interested in evidence-based medicine, scientific fraud, or scientific funding structures, David H. Feedman, for the Atlantic, profiles medical researcher John Ioannidis. Ioannidis argues that there is an extremely high rate of shoddy statistical work in the medical literature, not due to incompetence but to funding and institutional structures. An excerpt:

This array suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

David Goodstein, former vice-Provost of Caltech, has published a new book about scientific fraud. He argues that fraud is more common than thought, he identifies condition under which fraud is likely to happen, reviews several case studies, and discuss the ways in which fraud can be avoided.

David Segal of the New York Times, echoing Mike Thicke’s post about macroeconomics, writes about the difficulty of testing economic theories and one of the major reasons for that difficulty: people are unpredictable.

Cory Doctorow points us towards a new initiative by Canadian public scientists to communicate directly with the public in response to the government’s perceived hostility.

The New York Times reports that every serious Republican candidate for Senate is either a global warming denier or skeptic, and they are using this to avoid any discussion of solutions and to label Democrats as out-of-control taxers.

2 Comments

  • aidel Reply

    Fantastic post. If your optimism isn’t sufficiently wilted by what you have already read, keep in mind that the majority of MDs are not scientists and honestly do not have the ability to evaluate solid research vs. slanted research. But that doesn’t stop them from whipping out the prescription pad based on almost anything that sounds good. There is a disturbing trend of “research” and “news” that is actually advertising (or political campaigning). It’s time to put a little truth serum in the kool-aid.

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