Is our sytem broken?

Our system, in this post title, refers to the way “we”, i.e. the scientific community in its wider definition, make science and interact with the public/industries/governments etc.

That our system is failing is what Darrel Ince suggests in this Times Higher Education article. The article focuses on one particular story where clinical trials were started on the basis of bad science published in good peer reviewed journals.

It is a long story because it proved very difficult for the scientists who had discovered the flaws in the initial studies to get their message published and taken into account. The article is worth reading in full; here are two selected quotes from the general conclusions and lessons to be learnt section:

The second tenet is that letters and discussions about defects in a published paper announcing new research have low status. Journals must acknowledge that falsifiability lies at the heart of the scientific endeavour. Science philosopher Karl Popper said that a theory has authority only as long as no one has provided evidence that shows it to be deficient. It is not good enough for a journal to reject a paper simply because it believes it to be too negative.

What is worrying is that more scandals will emerge, often as a result of the pressure on academics, who are increasingly judged solely on the volume of their publications (some systems even give an academic a numerical rating based on paper citation) and their grants, and on how patentable their work may be.


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