Celebrity, Money-Driven Science Is Turning Out Junk Results

Scientism is the new religion of our day. People worship science for its ability to weed out false conclusions and settle on fact.

The problem with this notion is that it’s largely not true. Sure, science has certainly determined some things to be true, but it’s track record of reporting facts is sloppy at best.

One author submits that this sloppiness is not accidental.

Scientists have long been aware of something euphemistically called the “experimenter effect”: the curious fact that when a phenomenon is investigated by a researcher who happens to believe in the phenomenon, it is far more likely to be detected.

A scientist coming up with a problem that needs an answer, will generally have his answer in mind before experimenting. After experimenting he is very likely to achieve the answer he thought he’d get.

Time and testing reveal many of these ideas to be false. Science likes to brag that science will weed out the false through peer review. The problem with peer review is similar, however.

If peer review is good at anything, it appears to be keeping unpopular ideas from being published.

This statement was made after studies done on peer-reviewed journals publish and then later retracting so many articles. It seems science is not pure. Money, tenure, grants, and publicity are responsible for getting results the establishment wants you to get. Critiquing scientific methodology or disproving pet conclusions will get you in trouble real quick.

For all of science’s bashing on religious fundamentalists and close-minded religion, it appears as though science has its own fundamentalism that dare not be crossed.

Which brings us to the odd moment in which we live. At the same time as an ever more bloated scientific bureaucracy churns out masses of research results, the majority of which are likely outright false, scientists themselves are lauded as heroes and science is upheld as the only legitimate basis for policy-making. There’s reason to believe that these phenomena are linked. When a formerly ascetic discipline suddenly attains a measure of influence, it is bound to be flooded by opportunists and charlatans, whether it’s the National Academy of Science or the monastery of Cluny.

Scientism has produced a group of raving fans, bent on cussing and celebrating science’s awesomeness.

If science was unprepared for the influx of careerists, it was even less prepared for the blossoming of the Cult of Science. The Cult is related to the phenomenon described as “scientism”; both have a tendency to treat the body of scientific knowledge as a holy book or an a-religious revelation that offers simple and decisive resolutions to deep questions. But it adds to this a pinch of glib frivolity and a dash of unembarrassed ignorance. Its rhetorical tics include a forced enthusiasm (a search on Twitter for the hashtag “#sciencedancing” speaks volumes) and a penchant for profanity. Here in Silicon Valley, one can scarcely go a day without seeing a t-shirt reading “Science: It works, b—es!” The hero of the recent popular movie The Martian boasts that he will “science the sh— out of” a situation. One of the largest groups on Facebook is titled “I f—ing love Science!” (a name which, combined with the group’s penchant for posting scarcely any actual scientific material but a lot of pictures of natural phenomena, has prompted more than one actual scientist of my acquaintance to mutter under her breath, “What you truly love is pictures”). Some of the Cult’s leaders like to play dress-up as scientists—Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are two particularly prominent examples— but hardly any of them have contributed any research results of note. Rather, Cult leadership trends heavily in the direction of educators, popularizers, and journalists.

This hyper-coolness mixed with prideful certainty seems to be wrecking the entire scientific community. The irony of science fans is that many of them celebrate unscientific results. Watching science take a downfall by runaway pride is fun to watch. It’s about time this stuff happened to someone other than religious people!

When cultural trends attempt to render science a sort of religion-less clericalism, scientists are apt to forget that they are made of the same crooked timber as the rest of humanity and will necessarily imperil the work that they do. The greatest friends of the Cult of Science are the worst enemies of science’s actual practice.

It might be time for scientists to remember that we’re all sinners with deceitful hearts.

(Quotes are all taken from this excellent article you can read by clicking here.)


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