Half the facts you know are wrong.

The uncertainty of science: Half the facts you know are wrong.

Facts are being manufactured all of the time, and, as Arbesman shows, many of them turn out to be wrong. Checking each one is how the scientific process is supposed to work; experimental results need to be replicated by other researchers. So how many of the findings in 845,175 articles published in 2009 and recorded in PubMed, the free online medical database, were actually replicated? Not all that many. In 2011, a disquieting study in Nature reported that a team of researchers over 10 years was able to reproduce the results of only six out of 53 landmark papers in preclinical cancer research.

In 2005, the physician and statistician John Ioannides published “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” in the journal PLoS Medicine. Ioannides cataloged the flaws of much biomedical research, pointing out that reported studies are less likely to be true when they are small, the postulated effect is likely to be weak, research designs and endpoints are flexible, financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest are common, and competition in the field is fierce. Ioannides concluded that “for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”

Or in other words, anyone who claims the “science is settled” on any major scientific issue that other scientists are hotly debating is lying to you.

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One comment

  • D. K. Williams

    A lot of research isn’t replicated because finding similar results won’t get you published. When it comes to drug studies, these can be very expensive to reproduce. Nevertheless, this article is scary.

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