Via the k2p blog. The Lancet recently published a piece about a symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research, held at the Wellcome Trust which begins :-
“A lot of what is published is incorrect.” I'm not allowed to say who made this remark because we were asked to observe Chatham House rules. We were also asked not to take photographs of slides. Those who worked for government agencies pleaded that their comments especially remain unquoted, since the forthcoming UK election meant they were living in “purdah”—a chilling state where severe restrictions on freedom of speech are placed on anyone on the government's payroll. Why the paranoid concern for secrecy and non-attribution? Because this symposium—on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research, held at the Wellcome Trust in London last week—touched on one of the most sensitive issues in science today: the idea that something has gone fundamentally wrong with one of our greatest human creations.
Every now and then we hear these whispers about the untrustworthy nature of science and scientists, how too much scientific research is junk aimed at more funding and fashions rather than the advancement of human knowledge. Understandably the problem seems to be causing significant anxiety in medical fields, hence the symposium and the Chatham House rules.
Yet it is extremely difficult for anyone to put some kind of scale on the problem. There is a problem I'm sure, but how significant is it? To my mind it's another of those areas where we should do our own research and reach our own conclusions. Here's another quote:-
The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”.
All the scientists I ever knew were decent people who would not compromise sound science. Times change though. During my working life bureaucracy, political fashions and the power of money became ever more important.
Good scientists retired and numerous external pressures began to dominate the agenda. The integrity of the individual scientist gradually became unimportant, ineffective against a swelling tide of political, bureaucratic and financial exigencies. Finally :-