I find myself ranting more and more about modern practices in scientific communities. I don’t do this because I think science is a bad thing. The scientific method, after all, is just a tool and tools lack morality. I do this because scientism, treating science as a religion, has increasingly replaced science. It seems that many people have forgotten that science also requires a healthy dose of skepticism. Without skepticism, one can publish any old paper and people will believe its findings without question. This is rather worrisome when there are so many ways for bad or at least questionable science to get published:
This has huge implications. Evidence based medicine is completely worthless if the evidence base is false or corrupted. It’s like building a wooden house knowing the wood is termite infested. What caused this sorry state of affairs? Well, Dr. Relman another former editor in chief of the NEJM said this in 2002
“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful”
This article discusses a great deal of corruption in the scientific medical community. It turns out that much of the medical science that we take for granted is tainted. One of the most interesting forms of chicanery, at least in my opinion, is selective publishing:
Selective Publication — Negative trials (those that show no benefit for the drugs) are likely to be suppressed. For example, in the case of antidepressants, 36/37 studies that were favourable to drugs were published. But of the studies not favorable to drugs, a paltry 3/36 were published. Selective publication of positive (for the drug company) results means that a review of the literature would suggest that 94% of studies favor drugs where in truth, only 51% were actually positive.
End users, like doctors, often go by published studies. If 94 percent of published studies indicate that a drug is effective, doctors are more likely to prescribe that drug. However, if the 94 percent only exists because the large number of studies that indicated that the drug was ineffective weren’t published, the end user is often unaware. Moreover, if they are aware, they generally don’t know why the studies showing the drug to be ineffective weren’t published. Was it due to methodological failures on the part of the individuals performing the study or was it because an executive for the drug manufacturer is also on the board that decides what does and doesn’t get published? And to make matters even more difficult, just because a study was published doesn’t necessarily mean that the findings in the study are reproducible. The findings of many studies cannot be reproduced.
This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if so many people didn’t treat published research as holy scripture. But a lot of people do. Like a Christian who flips through the Bible searching for a line that supports their agenda, many people today will search for scientific papers that support their agenda. When they find it, they will throw it down as a trump card and act as if their agenda is unassailable because it’s “backed by science.” But is their agenda backed by science? Are the findings in the paper they threw down reproducible? Were several studies refuting the study they threw down rejected from publication by somebody who shares their agenda? There really is no way for you to know.