Is Science Losing Credibility?
“Science,” a word that can generate a multitude of thoughts. Many people not from the field assume science publications to be fact, but in reality, those in the science community know that there is no such thing as a scientific fact. You can take a bottle of water and drop it hundreds of times and it will fall to the ground each time. Why? We all know why, because gravity is assumed to be a natural law, quantifiable, and easily experienced. However, in the scientific community, it is still only call the Theory of Gravity. In science a hypothesis is never proven right, but often not able to be proven wrong. Small difference you might think, but it is a huge difference to the scientific community. The inability of others to prove your hypothesis wrong gives it more value, so essentially science is constantly out to prove itself wrong. An integral part of the process in validating a hypothesis is reproducibility. The experiment must be able to be reproduced by other scientists. If it can’t be, there is no way to try and disprove the results.
A recent article published in the Washington Post entitled “Many scientific studies can’t be replicated. That’s a problem.” discusses the issue of more and more studies being published and considered valid without ever being reproduced. The paper focuses on a study in which “[o]ver the course of four years, 270 researchers attempted to reproduce the results of 100 experiments that had been published in three prestigious psychology journals.” 1 The study focused on psychology studies because the foundation that ran the study, Center for Open Science, is mostly composed of psychologists. According to their paper, only 39% of the experiments were successfully reproduced. That’s not good.
In primary school science classes we are told of the past scientific discoveries that when announced caused others in the scientific community to race to their laboratories to see if they could achieve the same results. This was rigorous science. Now it appears that the scientific community at large is willing to accept results that get published as valid. John Ioannidis, author of the paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” discusses at length issues he’s found with the way experiments are conducted and states that in “many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.” 2 Without the ability of others to reproduce those results, it is even hard to tell if the information presented in them is correct. The Washington Post article mentions that a Dutch psychologist had “admitted in 2011 that he’d been fabricating his data for years.” 1 However, it is unlikely that the majority of the scientific community is fabricating their results. These findings do not show that the results of the experiments tested are wrong or right, it just shows that they were unable to be reproduced which is cause for further investigation.
The Washington Post interestingly had to update their article because of an outcry from the scientific community because they chose a stock photo of a chemist to use as the article’s main photo, which angered those in the “hard” science community. Those in the “hard” science community were quick to point out that the study only focused on psychological experiments which are considered part of the “soft” sciences. When asked his thoughts on whether the issue of reproducibility is as pervasive in the “hard” science community, Ioannidis states that “’I think on average physics and chemistry would do better. I don’t know how much better.’” 3 This may be because the confines of the experiments are easier to control or that the fields of physics and chemistry hold themselves to the reproducibility standards of the field’s forefathers. However, those fields too, might be tending in the direction indicated by the study. Just think how difficult it is to reproduce an experiment run by the CERN Large Hadron Collider; it is the only such apparatus in the world.