Monday, January 18, 2016

How to change a field that seems doomed with bias

With the many recent articles siting bias as an extreme impediment to the purpose of science, it is difficult to not stand on top of the cafeteria table and call B.S. to the entire field. Although this seems drastic, faith in science and the scientists that perform it become more and more futile as knowledge of how bias has infiltrated research becomes known. An article published in The Economist lists several ways that biased and unrepeatable research can become published. How can we change an entire field that consists of researchers partial to find their hypotheses correct, reviewers that don’t have enough time to complete an accurate assessment of the science, or journals that rarely publish needed and essential repetition of previous results?  

The psychology of science is complex, and it seems that bias is unavoidable, especially in the “publish or perish” mentality that exists in the field of academia. Jared Horvath, in an article in Scientific American, states that bias and the lack of reproducible research is not just a recent phenomenon, but can be seen for many centuries previous and among even the most lauded scientists, including Galileo, Dalton, and Einstein. So again, how are we to avoid something that has been innate in our field for centuries?

We as scientists must acknowledge that science not properly designed, analyzed, reviewed and repeated exists and is pervasive in our field, even among our own institutions, departments, and laboratories. We also must acknowledge that this kind of science is not trustworthy and can mislead not only the scientific field but the general public to hope for cures that might not exist—wasting hope, time and funding on biased hypotheses and results. Although changing a field seems impossible, I believe it starts in one laboratory that is willing to fight for good scientific practices (click here for a list of biases common in design and analysis of research written by Drs. Pannucci and Wilkins).

If we truly want to change the field to one that is trustworthy and contains good, unbiased scientific practices, we must become our own “bias police” in which we are adamant about self-critiquing and repeating experiments from our laboratories. As we begin to transform our own laboratories, we can begin to hope for the transformation of our entire field.   

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