When science was wrong; what happens? Public trust in science is critical to the excellent functioning of modern societies. When used by elected officials and policymakers, science can help support and justify difficult choices, such as economic changes to combat global warming or limiting individual freedoms in the name of public health.
But for science to believed, researchers must demonstrate responsible behavior. They must conduct rigorous studies, minimize sources of bias, and be truthful in their research publications. It is reasonable to be concerned when reputable scientific journals remove studies that cause shame. The recent retraction of a high-profile COVID-19 survey by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet could undermine public trust in science. But should it?
The real question here is not whether science is wrong but why it is wrong. It is a point that should not question too often.
In the examples, little or no studies and data could found that supported the original positions. In other words, science is not wrong. It doesn’t exist. Instead, we find that what take as common knowledge are assumptions made by observers of the phenomenon. The appendix considerer residual not because of studies showing it but because of beliefs that suggested it had no apparent negative impact on those who had it surgically removed. Like the Komodo dragon, assumed to fatal because their mouths fill with deadly bacteria.
Their bite. From these examples, one has to question the basis of much of what we take to be scientific truths. Is it evidence-based or opinion-based? No matter how qualified such an opinion is, it still cannot be considered evidence.
How are retractions made?
Unfortunately, retractions of scientific journal publications are not rare. They have increased in recent years due to greater focus and better editorial oversight. About half of rejections are due to falsification, fabrication or plagiarism. The other half is the result of honest mistakes.
More problematic is that approximately two per cent of researchers admitted that they falsified, fabricated, or altered data but did not retract these studies. In other words, questionable and unreliable research remains in the scientific literature and can influence other research and policy decisions.
The saying “publish or perish” often used to characterize academics who want to prove their productivity by publishing their work. Additionally, due to the current pandemic, the entire research system has forced to move quickly to respond to fundamental public safety. The result increased funding and project selection, faster research ethics review, peer review, and academic publication. Although some researchers try to take advantage of this situation, many feel it is an individual and collective responsibility to help society by doing good research that makes a difference.
Can we trust scientific research if it is wrong?
Fortunately, science does not rely only on a few studies or publications. In any field, other experts conduct, evaluate, and critique many studies. Over time, the results can validated or invalidated. Can draw and can produce knowledge.
COVID-19 has arguably changed this knowledge development process. We now regularly see news stories discussing preliminary findings from “preclinical studies” that show some hope for a treatment.
To make matters worse, considerable political pressure is also to produce vaccines in record time. It means cutting corners. Not only does this create unrealistic expectations, but it can also limit scientific creativity and innovation, and poorly designed or conducted studies do not translate into safe and effective vaccines.
The reality of science is that it takes time to explore the unknown and determine what works and doesn’t. Obvious “false starts” and “dead ends” that lead to study failure are standard parts of the process. When done honestly, it leads to world-changing discoveries and innovations.
Why should we talk about the limitations of scientific research?
Good health-policy decisions whether public health incarceration or drug development are justified based on reliable science and transparency of choice. The Lancetgate scandal and the hydroxychloroquine saga show the problems that arise when scientists are not trustworthy.
More problematic is that science sweeps its mistakes under the rug without correcting them. Transparency at the heart of the scientific process, the honesty to say when things don’t work, can produce reliable knowledge. It advances the public good and how scientists demonstrate that they can and should be trusted.
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