“Lies, Damned Lies…”

Interesting essay here.

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.”

Though scientists and science journalists are constantly talking up the value of the peer-review process, researchers admit among themselves that biased, erroneous, and even blatantly fraudulent studies easily slip through it. Nature, the grande dame of science journals, stated in a 2006 editorial, “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.”

We are all prone to “see” things so strongly we can often justify lying or “fudging” the truth a little so everything will “fit” comfortably into our worldview of how we think the world should be or is.  Wisdom though is recognizing this fact and proceeding humbly knowing full well how we are capable of deceiving ourselves and others.  We may be wrong.  Others may be right.

The problem with scientism and those whose worldview is based upon empiricism is that this required humility and sensibility is actually degraded and even jettisoned because one fools himself into believing that he is just a neutral observer of “facts.” Thus everyone else is lying or prone to lies, whereas the objective scientist is only moved by the “evidence.”  Such a view is simply another grand myth of the 20th Century.
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2 Responses to “Lies, Damned Lies…”

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Ah- a very good find! This was easily the most damning piece I had run across in a long time, and rightfully so. The standards of medical studies are abysmal. (Say I, from my perch in the molecular end of biology!)

    But all the same, there is evidence to be had, which eventually, when the stakes are high enough, lets the truth come out. The Viox story is a case in point.

    This remains categorically different from the theological situation where ya gotta have faith is the ultimate criterion.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “But all the same, there is evidence to be had…” And no one said there wasn’t. The point had nothing to do with “evidence.” Your reference to “faith” is ridiculous as you have no idea what people are talking about in these conversations when they use the word. But why not address the points?

    One point was that scientists are as biased as any other professional and as prone to lie as any other. The more important point was that if one is so cock-sure he is a neutral objective observer, who is only moved by “facts,” he is less likely to be humble, usually blind to his own presuppositions, and sure everyone else is biased or lying.

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