May 29, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Science Is Biased

They admit it; you can’t get rid of bias in science. Big Science has too many problems of its own to dictate ethics to others.

Science is supposed to be a better method to finding truth due to its methods and its self-correction procedures. The scientific method is supposed to provide checks against researcher bias, and peer review is supposed to guard against bias at another level. Finally, reproducibility should add a third layer of protection against bias. Sounds good in theory. It’s not working in practice.

The reproducibility crisis has been recognized for years (see keyword search).  Science Magazine lifted the lid on the crisis a little higher, showing how bad it is:

More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments. Those are some of the telling figures that emerged from Nature‘s survey of 1,576 researchers who took a brief online questionnaire on reproducibility in research.

So much for that protection. At the peer review level, there’s more problems. Science Magazine also addressed implicit bias in peer review, recommending substantial changes in the practice (implying it has not been working up till now).

At the personal bias level, “we all have it,” Marcia McNutt (editor of Science Magazine) admitted. In her view, it’s an evolutionary trait.

We all have it. Implicit bias was the shorthand that allowed our distant ancestors to make split-second decisions (friend or foe?) based on incomplete information. It provided a razor-thin reaction-time advantage that could mean life or death. But today, we no longer need to assume that people who do not look or sound like us pose an immediate threat. Instead, successful organizations and people welcome those who do not necessarily look, think, and act like they do. They must overcome that implicit bias wired into the human DNA if they are to reap the benefits of diversity. To explore the extent of implicit bias in peer review, and what can be done to counter it, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science) recently convened a day-long forum of editors, publishers, funders, and experts on implicit bias in Washington, DC (see p. 1067).

Questions arise at this statement. If implicit bias is wired into human DNA, it must be there to advance fitness (in McNutt’s worldview). Wouldn’t it make sense from that foundation to increase bias than try to overcome it? And Does Ms. McNutt see herself falling into the current trendy bias for diversity? Isn’t the business of science to find out the truth about nature, not worry about the trendy keywords “diversity” and “inclusion”?

Another glimpse at scientific bias is seen in Chris Woolston’s piece in Nature where he shows that scientists, many of whom pride themselves on their critical thinking, get emotional when caught failing to be skeptical of their own skepticism. This was occasioned by an editorial in which science writer John Horgan accused skeptics of only picking soft targets. That stung, leading to counter-tweets by scientists. But even PZ Myers, the arch-enemy of creationism and ID, saw some light. “What Horgan did was point out that there are a lot of things to be skeptical about, and skeptics have a peculiar fondness for picking the easiest targets.” That’s bias. But which scientists would be willing to doubt their own skepticism itself?

McNutt assures her members that the AAAS is working hard to overcome bias and to address the crises in peer review and reproducibility. Medical Xpress is looking at the contexts that lead to reproducibility failures. Considering the levels of failure so far, what confidence can the public have in academia’s ability to police themselves?

If Big Science really believed in diversity, they would hire more conservatives. There’s no diversity in ideology in the AAAS, at Nature and in many universities. That’s a situation ripe for corruption and for intellectual blindness.

Only the Christian worldview, with its Ten Commandments, can provide a moral foundation for science. That’s not to say Christians in science will always perform better. But they can account for the requirements of honesty and integrity (1/16/16) in science and in every area of investigation. People view science incorrectly if they think it has a superior path to knowledge, or the only reliable way to know things. That’s scientism, not science. Real science is mediated by fallible humans who need a moral compass.

If one’s moral compass is produced by natural selection, it has no guarantees about finding the truth. For a revealing piece on the failures of “evolutionary epistemology,” read Sarah Chaffee’s piece at Evolution News & Views. Contrary to simple intuition, she shows how natural selection tends to obscure reality, not help creatures discover it. With a self-refuting worldview like “evolutionary epistemology,” science is doomed. The only rescue is a worldview that accounts for the orderliness and purposefulness of nature, from a Creator who commands, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” That goes for historians and preachers as well as for scientists and laymen.

The hopeful side of that moral dictate is that humans are indeed capable of obeying it. We can, by logical inference, know what is true and what is false. And we must.


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