Sunday, November 3, 2013

The short comings of Scientism

Scientific American    [...] I’m struck once again by all the “breakthroughs” and “revolutions” that have failed to live up to their hype: string theory and other supposed “theories of everything,” self-organized criticality and other theories of complexity, anti-angiogenesis drugs and other potential “cures” for cancer, drugs that can make depressed patients “better than well,” “genes for” alcoholism, homosexuality, high IQ and schizophrenia. [...]

Arguably the biggest meta-story in science over the last few years—and one that caught me by surprise–is that much of the peer-reviewed scientific literature is rotten. A pioneer in exposing this vast problem is the Stanford statistician John Ioannidis, whose blockbuster 2005 paper in PLOS Medicine presented evidence that “most current published research findings are false.”

Discussing his findings in Scientific American two years ago, Ioannidis writes: “False positives and exaggerated results in peer-reviewed scientific studies have reached epidemic proportions in recent years. The problem is rampant in economics, the social sciences and even the natural sciences, but it is particularly egregious in biomedicine.”

In his recent defense of scientism (which I criticized on this blog), Steven Pinker lauds science’s capacity for overcoming bias and other human failings and correcting mistakes. But the work of Ioannidis and others shows that this capacity is greatly overrated.

“Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong,” The Economist states in its recent cover story “How Science Goes Wrong.” “But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently corrected or withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. There are errors in a lot more of the scientific papers being published, written about and acted on than anyone would normally suppose, or like to think.” [...]


  1. Frum website poses questions on Ikrei Emunah to teen agers

  2. Important piece.

    Also, on the same subject:

    see - over ten ways how bias effects research findings.

    also see "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre, where he explains how the media promote the public misunderstanding of science, why clever people believe stupid things, bad statistics, the placebo effect, and other reasons why ....

    we live in an עולם השקר!

  3. 'idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further'

    Theoretically, on could reasonably expect that it should get corrected over time, because all of the information gets put out where everyone can see it, and there are many people who would want to prove themselves and their expertise, and they would do well to show the errors and present more accurate presentations.

    The problem is: who are the judges?

    Everything gets reported in the public media for עולם גולם to decide. Even in the scientific community itself, there is a very large percent who do not have the real scientific ability or integrity but in the final analysis, every position gets appointed by the general public, or it's offshoots.

    It's like in politics. any lying politician can convince more idiots than can a truth telling politician(theoretical) gather votes of well meaning clear thinking people to outnumber the idiots. So the liar can prevail.

    Unfortunately, אזוי ווי ס'גוישט זיך אזוי יודישט זיך so in Halacha which is a real Chochma כהררים התלוים בשערה, besides the fact that לאסוקי שמעתתא אליבא דהלכתא סייעתא היא מן שמיא and not every בר בי רב דחד יומא should be allowed to be a מאן דאמר but the public media decides who the מאן דאמרים are.

    1. No. It's not like politics at all. The scientific method is based on hypotheses and theories and testing these hypotheses and theories. A theory may last for several generations but eventually some will come along and challenge it in the scientific method.

      For example, there was a commonly held belief that maggots spontaneously emerged from spoiled meat. Through observation and the scientific method, this theory was discredited in favor of flies laying eggs in the meat.

      In the scientific community, the people have the ability. In the general community, most people have the community to spout off but not the abiilty to know what they are talking about. This is the same meritocracy that happens in Jewish learning. The rabbis were democratic but they didn't just allow anyone to learn and make rulings on halacha.

      This article and the comments are like Reform Jews trying to discuss halacha. It's just sad.

  4. .Despite objections, science is getting somewhere. It can't be denied that people are living longer and we've got to the moon. In the long term, things that don't work don't work.


    1. Frank Tipler: Could Einstein Be Published Under Today's Peer-Review Policies?
      Evolution News & Views
      play_button.gif Click here to listen.

      On this episode of ID the Future, Dr. Frank Tipler discusses how leading science journals are increasingly hostile to new ideas, publishing only papers that are consistent with the dominant views of the scientific community. Tipler argues that if Einstein were to try and get a paper on his relativity theory published under today's peer-review system, he would certainly be rejected, reminding us that academia needs to encourage scientists to challenge conformity in order to cultivate great thinkers.

    2. In my experience, it's not that scientists are hostile to new ideas; it's that most scientists today are not bright enough to understand new ideas. Einstein was lucky that he lived in an era where there were enough scientists in high places that were bright enough to understand what he wrote.


    3. It's time for a rigorous investigation of inertia as it applies to scientific thought.

    4. Don't forget that around 1902, the scientific world was in foment as the two great sides argued for and against the existence of atoms versus solid matter.

      The great physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, who passionately believed in atoms, actually committed suicide caused in part by the attacks on him by those who ridiculed his atomic belief.

      It took Albert Einstein's first great theorem to settle the dispute just a couple of years later.
      But the dispute, and the way it played out, shows just how strident and wrong segments of the scientific community can be (please don't anyone use this to ridicule science, as properly carried out science, with its repeatable results, is a correct and necessary tool in our lives).


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