The Replication Problem

Evolutionists love to tout scientific journals as being the ultimate arbiter of truth.  They claim the peer review process produces papers which are less likely to be incorrect or fraudulent. I’ve written about the ridiculousness of this claim in face of the facts before. However, even some scientists are beginning to acknowledge they have a problem.  There have been a few studies released recently that have acknowledged that there is a problem. One such study reported on by the science website Science News,  came out recently and attempted to replicate 21 papers published in the most prestigious science journals and only succeeded with thirteen. This article will delve into the reasons why.

Problems with scientific studies are nothing new.  People who monitor the scientific community have noticed the stealth retractions of science journal articles and the resulting fallout for some time now. In fact, there is a website, called Retraction Watch dedicated to keeping track of science papers that are retracted.  So far they have cataloged thousands of retractions since 2010 when the website started and are working towards a database of retracted papers. They estimate there are several hundred journal articles retracted yearly. Some scientists are repeat offenders, with one anesthesiologist having 183 papers retracted since the website was founded.  One of the more recent cases involved a nutrition researcher at Cornell who was found to have fraudulently reported data from multiple studies of restaurants and people’s eating habits.  So while the scientific community may present an outwardly demure face, there are significant issues going on behind the mask.

The Science News article spoke of a study which attempted to replicate twenty-one separate studies in social sciences from two of the most prestigious science journals, Nature and Science.  Eight of the studies failed outright and should require a retraction. That means that thirty-eight percent of studies done in the field of social sciences could be flat wrong if this study is used as an indicator.  While that number is bad, it gets worse when the rest of the studies are examined.  The thirteen studies that were replicated, were not replicated with identical results.  Instead, the results were weaker, and less statistically significant, indicating that the published studies had overstated the strength of their results and probably deserve at least a note.

I want to emphasize here that not every retraction is a result of deliberate misconduct. Scientists are human, and are thus prone to mistakes just like the rest of us. Sometimes they catch the mistakes themselves and ask for a paper to be retracted or edited.  However, when there are several hundred retractions a year, all is not well in the house.  Keep in mind, that is just the number of papers where an error of some nature was discovered. It does not include the ones where there were errors that were missed. Thus the number of mistaken, fraudulent, or even plagiarized papers that are still in circulation as valid is unknown.

Consider the implications of this, particularly in the medical field. One cancer researcher has had multiple papers retracted for misrepresenting data for example.  Research like that does not save lives, it kills people. With how widespread and frequent retractions are, the implications are massive, particularly since some papers continue to be cited and used for further research even after being retracted! Science clearly has some house cleaning to do.

This has become a major problem for a lot of reasons.  The Science News article points out that the major journals tend not to publish people who do studies which are meant to overturn previously published studies. However, there is also another issue. Dr. Jonathan Losos, in his book on evolution called Improbable Destinies when discussing this topic writes “Results of this sort usually don’t attract much attention and can even be hard to publish. For this reason, studies like this can be unattractive, particularly to young scientists who need publications to advance their careers.” In other words, doing a study that could be used to double check others work is potentially harmful to a young scientists career. This is because scientists are, by and large, also professors. In order to land a good teaching job, scientists need to publish in the leading science journals. A double-check study isn’t likely to be published.

Another major issue comes from funding. Researchers do not fund their own work. Instead, they apply for grants from the government and private foundations to pay for their work.  This system is very results and discoveries driven. If a researcher takes grant money, it is expected that he publish the results of a study done with that money.  While this is a reasonable expectation because the science journals do not regularly publish failures or replication studies, there is a powerful incentive for a scientist to tinker with the results to produce the desired conclusion.

Please understand, it is not my intent to claim all scientists are untrustworthy or that science is not true. I love science and I know and trust many scientists. I’m simply trying to help everyone understand that scientists are not error-proof. American culture views scientists as being nearly infallible. They aren’t. They are just as prone to error as any other group of people, and just as likely as anyone else to falsify their work.  Thus when the most recent scientific study is released making a claim about anything from medicine to evolution, consider that fallible humans wrote the study, and there may be more there than meets the eye.


The video I did discussing the replication problem is linked below. 

The Replication Problem



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