Science: The Enemy Within

You might think that science is undermined most by attacks from without, but that’s not the case. More harm is done to science from within than without. Science’s greatest foes are scientists themselves and the infrastructure that supports them. Not all scientists, but those who engage in fraud, bias, negligence, and hype. Unfortunately, many scientists engage in one or more of these bad practices. If this concerns you, as it does me, I recommend that you read the new book titled Science Fictions by Stuart Ritchie.

This book is an eminently readable airing of science’s dirty laundry. It’s not an attack on science but a valiant attempt by an insider to sunlight the problems that plague science so that they can be addressed. In fact, it goes on to suggest concrete and practical solutions. The internal problems that plague science are not solely due to a few bad apples but are baked right into the enterprise itself; they’re systemic in nature. Dysfunctional incentives and shoddy oversight poison the process at its roots. When science is done right, there is no better path to understanding and progress. Science must get back on track.

To give you a better sense of the book’s contents, here’s an excerpt from the inside cover:

Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless—or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields a wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad science—with sometimes deadly consequences.

Science Fictions is far from a counsel of despair. Rather, it’s a defense of the scientific method against the pressures and perverse incentives that lead scientists to bend the rules. By illustrating the many ways that scientists go wrong, Ritchie gives us the knowledge we need to spot dubious research and points the way to reforms that could make science trustworthy once again.

If you appreciate and support science, I recommend that you read this book.

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