Broken Science?

Broken Science?

In the last year or so, a new term has become commonly used to describe various journalistic articles and segments. That term is “fake news”. It has been used to describe all manner of journalistic work and has migrated into other fields as well. This obsession with falsified news has even reached the White House. The President has repeatedly, and often justifiably, referred to a particular mainstream media source as a purveyor of this “fake news”. However, journalism is not the only field to have felt the impact of falsified reports and imposed worldviews. Science has been hit with it as well. In this article, we will ask the controversial questions “is science broken?” and, if it is “how do we fix it?”

Before going any further, it would be wise to agree on what we mean by science. Normally when I use the term science in these articles, I am referring to things that are observable, testable and repeatable. For the purposes of this article, I will use a broadened definition. The definition will include the experiments themselves, as well as their results and the scientists performing them.  This will allow me to make my points as clearly as possible.

Now that we have a working definition of science, let us turn to the question of is it broken or not.  The answer to that question is both yes and no.  It depends entirely on what you look at. The scientific method still works. Experiments can still be performed.  A scientist can observe something and test it in a lab. His colleague across the globe can read his peer-reviewed article and attempt to recreate his experiment.  However, it is this repeat-ability factor that is the issue.

In August of 2015, the New York Times published an article about a group of researchers in Virginia who had spent a significant portion of time attempting to recreate the results of around 100 studies published in psychology journals. They found that more than half of the studies were not repeatable. In fact, over sixty of the studies showed either weaker results or did not produce the same results.  This a catastrophic problem. If this sixty percent holds true across all scientific disciplines, the problems caused would be devastating. Imagine 60% of all medical studies incorrect or sixty percent of all consumer science research fraudulent.

I suspect that the sixty percent here is high. Because psychology research is based solely on talking to people about how they feel, the difficulty in reproducing experiments goes up exponentially because people’s feelings can change rapidly. Also, no two people feel the exact same about anything.  However, other scientific disciplines are feeling the heat as well, with the retraction of published papers skyrocketing.  This is partially due to the statistics involved. Generally speaking, when scientists crunch data, if they find that there is a 5% or less probability that the effect could be caused by anything other than what they are testing, they assume a connection and publish a paper. Some scientists have proposed throwing the probability out the window and only going for sure things, which would help.  However, there is far more to this problem than mere statistics.

The issue that is lurking in the background, and the true reason science is broken, is green.  It comes with presidents and other famous Americans faces on it and is sometimes referred to as cold hard cash.  Science is expensive. The vast majority of the funding for scientific studies comes from the federal government and the states via grants. Because of this, scientists are under pressure to produce results or risk losing their grants.  The pressure increases when jobs are added to the equation. Most scientific research which does not immediately involve the consumer is done at universities by tenured professors and their graduate student assistants.  For a scientist to get into one of these positions where he can conduct this research, it is nearly required that he be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal such a Nature or some other similar journal. These journals tend to publish what they perceive as cutting-edge research, not someone recreating someone else’s experiment. This does two things. It removes the incentive to repeat someone else’s experiment and ratchets up the pressure to produce something new even further. A tenured professorship is a lifetime income, often six figures or higher.  Many scientists are willing to fudge their numbers in order to get published and get into one of those openings.

A second issue that has broken science is a closed-minded dogmatism.  Evolution has been so thoroughly accepted by the scientific establishment, that no other alternatives are discussed.  Anyone daring to question the orthodoxy must be shut down. Nowhere was this more prominently displayed than recently when the scientists in charge of the Grand Canyon refused to allow Dr. Andrew Snelling, a creationist, and geologist, to collect rock samples to study. They had, however, previously permitted evolutionists to do the same thing. Dr. Snelling was forced to file a lawsuit before the Grand Canyon officials finally relented.

Recognizing that science is broken does not magically fix it.  Drastic changes must be implemented in order to return to the scientific glory days of Pasteur and Newton.  There needs to be some form of incentive for scientists to check one another.  Further, professorships should be based on ability to teach, rather than publication in a science journal.  Research should be divorced from universities and done by standalone research institutes, dependent on making money with their research. This would force them to be accurate. Further, scientists must open their minds to possibilities.  Focusing solely on one idea, to the exclusion of all others, is what brought us the idea of spontaneous generation and the idea that the earth was flat. Undoubtedly evolutionists do not want their theory to go down the same road as those two debunked theories.  Creationists should also be wary of this. While some parts of Creationism are set in stone, (ie God creating everything) parts about which the Bible is silent should not stagnate simply because they have always been that way.  For science to move forward successfully as a discipline, it needs to change the status quo, because the status quo is both broken, and a hindrance to further research.

 

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