August 30, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Science Fails Its Ideals

Fraud, lack of integrity and non-reproducible results continue to plague Big Science. Fair debate can help.

Scientists strut about, and science teachers and reporters exalt them, because of their alleged superior methods of knowledge acquisition. Students are told that scientific findings are peer reviewed, reproducible, and testable. The reality is different. It’s like finding out your priest is a pervert.

High-profile journals put to reproducibility test (Nature). Did you know two out of five published research results are not reproducible? The “reproducibility crisis” that embarrassed Big Science in recent years continues unabated (4 April 2017). We’re talking about the big-name players here:

A reproducibility effort has put high-profile journals under the spotlight by trying to replicate a slew of social-science results. In the work, published on 27 August in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers attempted to reproduce 21 social-science results reported in Science and Nature between 2010 and 2015 and were able to reproduce 62% of the findings. That’s about twice the rate achieved by an earlier effort that examined the psychology literature more generally, but the latest result still raises questions about two out of every five papers studied.

Let’s ask another question: could this latest test itself be reproduced? Who’s watching the watchers?

No more excuses for non-reproducible methods (Nature). In his “World View” column, Lenny Teytelman shares some of the common rationalizations offered for non-reproducibility of research results. But he thinks there are fewer excuses for it now, thanks to the internet. Is a new golden age of trust coming?

Now should be springtime for methods sharing. Mobile-friendly, web-based technologies are maturing just as the need to improve reproducibility has gained widespread attention. A new era of more-efficient, more-confident science is ours to lose.

What his essay implies is that science has been unacceptably efficient before now, leading to unacceptable levels of public trust and confidence. This may be a jarring realization to people raised on the perception of science as the paragon of trustworthy knowledge.

Open up peer review (Nature). The editors of Nature are feeling the heat of challenges to the traditional style of anonymous peer review. In the same issue of Nature, Jessica K. Polka and 4 other scientists, writing”Publish peer reviews,” call “on journals to sign a pledge to make reviewers’ anonymous comments part of the official scientific record.” Also in the same issue of Nature, Jonathan Tennant and two others argue that preprints (postings of scientific papers before peer review) help journalism, not hinder it.

In suggesting that preprints could distort the public’s understanding of science, Tom Sheldon perpetuates the fallacy that peer review is a guarantee of validity (Nature 559, 445; 2018). There are countless examples to the contrary (see, for instance, A. Margalida and M. À. Colomer PeerJ 4, e1670; 2016)….

Plenty of peer-reviewed research papers contain errors. Preprints provide a chance to spot these and have them removed before publication.

The editors respond that “A transparent process to publish referees’ reports could benefit science, but not all researchers want their assessments made available.” So who is right? Nobody. Each solution has problems. Peer review is not a command etched on stone tablets, but an attempt to compensate for human fallibility and laziness. If men were angels, Jefferson said, they would not need government, nor would they need peer review (open or otherwise). This may be another jarring realization to people raised on the perception that peer review confers some kind of imprimatur on truth.

How Unpaywall is transforming open science (Nature). Frustrated by the inability to access science papers behind the paywalls of journals, some individual scientists rigged a search algorith, called Unpaywall, that can find free copies online. Molly Else reports that the trend is growing to include Unpaywall in other science databases. This article illustrates how the lack of accessibility to published science hinders one of the ideals of science, which is free and open exchange.

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The sugar wars: Rhetoric or reason? (Medical Express). This article illustrates that some of the things we “think” we know best may rely on shaky evidential ground. Sugar is bad, right? Scientists keep telling us to cut down on carbohydrates, because they cause diabetes and obesity. Along comes a maverick like Edward Archer, PhD, to challenge this assumption.

In his article, Edward Archer, Ph.D., of EvolvingFX, Jupiter, FL, USA, challenged the latest dietary recommendations and presented evidence from multiple domains to show that “diet” is a necessary but trivial factor in metabolic health. “Anti-sugar rhetoric is simply diet-centric disease-mongering engendered by physiologic illiteracy,” he wrote. “My position is that dietary sugars are not responsible for obesity or metabolic diseases and that the consumption of simple sugars and sugar-polymers (e.g., starches) up to 75 percent of total daily caloric intake is innocuous in healthy individuals.

Six bullet items of factoids make his case. But before piling on the sugar in your diet, though, notice that his critics don’t take this challenge lying down. In Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, Archer’s claims that started “The Sugar Wars” were met with letters to the editor defending the traditional anti-sugar consensus. Archer remains unflappable. He responds with cogent attacks on the consensus:

It is time for the medical and scientific communities to return to their roots, eschew magical and miraculous thinking, and demonstrate a modicum of skepticism by refuting the illiterate nonsense and puritanical proscriptions engendered by diet-centrism.

Can a scientific consensus really be that wrong? We’re not taking sides in the Sugar Wars, because it is off-topic for CEH. It should be noted, however, that a long-trusted government study called the Food Pyramid was recently undermined by complaints that it was based on shoddy science. Classrooms across America posted diagrams of the Food Pyramid as if it represented the best advice from empirical science. Jonathan Wells gives another example. He quips in his book Zombie Science that the consensus was on an anti-egg binge years ago, only to reverse itself after making millions of people afraid to eat eggs, which it now says are healthy. How many egg farmers suffered from that detour?

In a related article, Medical Xpress says, “Low-carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should be avoided.” Weren’t we all told for years that carbohydrates are bad? No look what the European Society for Cardiology says in their ESC Congress 2018:

“We found that people who consumed a low carbohydrate diet were at greater risk of premature death. Risks were also increased for individual causes of death including coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer. These diets should be avoided.

Another claim reported by Medical Xpress from the ESC Congress claims, “Components of heart healthy diet may differ from what was previously thought.” Thought by whom? Thought by the very food scientists who told us to significantly reduce carbohydrates in our diet.

Professor Salim Yusuf, senior author and director of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, said: “Thinking on what constitutes a high quality diet for a global population needs to be reconsidered. For example, our results show that dairy products and meat are beneficial for heart health and longevity. This differs from current dietary advice.”

Recommendations for a high quality diet to avoid cardiovascular disease are largely based on studies conducted decades ago in high income countries. There is little information on what people eat today across the world.

And yet coming up with a simple plate of food that would be called “healthy” for everyone from Inuits to Italians seems a daunting challenge. The point is that if scientists cannot come up with reliable guidelines for a subject as simple as what we should eat (a subject amenable to reproducible, testable results), how can they pretend to tell us about non-reproducible events from millions of years ago?

One of Archer’s critics “feels it is important to have the scientists discuss opposing viewpoints in the journal.”

Debate is supposed to be good for science. There is one topic that a scientist dare not oppose for fear of losing job, tenure, and respect: Darwinian evolution. The Pro-Darwin totalitarian dictators of Big Science are so entrenched, just using the phrase “intelligent design” in a submitted paper will guarantee rejection unless it mocks the phrase. Same for “irreducible complexity” or anything else that “smells” like it came from a Darwin doubter, no matter how good the science behind it. Don’t even think about “creation” or “young earth” getting a fair trial in the court of Big Science peer review.

For instance, look how Science Daily gets away with claiming “Study confirms truth behind ‘Darwin’s moth'” as it regurgitates the old peppered moth myth. The article brashly asserts, “Scientists have revisited — and confirmed — one of the most famous textbook examples of evolution in action.” Jonathan Wells, PhD, who has studied the peppered moth story for at least 20 years, could shred this claim to pieces if he were allowed into the debate, but as an ID proponent, he remains hidden behind the sound-proof one-way glass erected by Big Science.

The DODO’s don’t want anyone threatening their DOPE-pushing business. The reproducibility crisis shows them to be as naked as their Emperor Charlie.

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