Monday, January 18, 2016

Feeling biased about science bias

Based on these articles, it’s clear that there is a fair amount of concern about the quality of science. At the heart of these concerns is the reproducibility of science data, best outlined by the articles published in ASBMB and the Economist. Both of these articles suggest that 36% of experiments are false positives. Two major concerns about the science process were particularly critiqued by the authors of these articles: the “publish or perish” culture of science careers, as well as the peer review process. Basically, scientists are so anxious to publish, that this decreases the quality and time necessary for decent science to occur. In addition, because the peer review process is ran completely by professional obligation and not monetary motivations, there is little oversight when accepting publications.

I’m going to go ahead and admit now that my personal opinions about these critiques are definitely bias, which I assume most of us feel considering that we are within the scientific community that is being critiqued by these articles. We all like to think that we are trying out best to commit to “good science.” There’s a lot of thought and effort being made into testing valid hypotheses, controlling for all foreseeable variables, etc. But like all humans, scientists may make a mistake. It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect 100% accuracy from science. And I was more prone to agree with the opinions of Hovarth: “Science progresses in subtle degrees, half-truths, and chance.” His argument basically goes with the idea this randomness and irreproducibility is not such a bad thing. Science is a little bit of luck, something that I think we can all agree with. Reproducibility is difficult, and historically speaking, some of the greatest science theories have been borne by chance. I think where the trust needs to lie is that scientists are not purposefully doing “bad science.” When this trust is broken is that point where I will consider “irreproducible data” to be a chronic and urgent problem.  

That being said, yes. There are definite changes that need to be made to ensure the best science continues to be produced. I think that’s why a lot of us are taking statistics. Science research now is very different from science research of the past. Internet has made more information available to us. New technology has completely changed the face of research. And if the public is concerned, then we as scientists need to do our best to strike an acceptable balance between having the freedom to make human mistakes while still delivering the most accurate science possible. I’m curious to see if efforts towards having better funding for reproducing data will provide a viable solution for addressing current concerns. Like most science, I’m sure there will be a fair amount of “trial and error” before we can fix things.

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