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Education Science

New Stanford Institute To Target Bad Science 86

ananyo writes "John Ioannidis, the epidemiologist who published an infamous paper entitled 'Why most published research findings are false', has co-founded an institute dedicated to combating sloppy medical studies. The new institute is to focus on irreproducibility, waste in science and publication bias. The institute, called the Meta-Research Innovation Centre or METRICS, will, the Economist reports, 'create a "journal watch" to monitor scientific publishers' work and to shame laggards into better behaviour. And they will spread the message to policymakers, governments and other interested parties, in an effort to stop them making decisions on the basis of flaky studies. All this in the name of the centre's nerdishly valiant mission statement: "Identifying and minimising persistent threats to medical-research quality."'"
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New Stanford Institute To Target Bad Science

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  • by Russ1642 ( 1087959 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:08PM (#46518561)

    Sounds like a great idea, but in reality it'll end up being untrusted and reviled by scientists. Set yourself up as THE authority on judging anything and the people you're judging will hate you because of your biases, conflicts of interest, lack of oversight, lack of accountability, and poor dispute resolution.

  • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:11PM (#46518585) Journal
  • nerdish? wtf. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:21PM (#46518669)
    Why exactly is "Identifying and minimising persistent threats to medical-research quality." even remotely considered "nerdishly valiant"??? That is a pretty important aspect of medicine that gets overlooked all to often by the pharma funded medical testing establishment :(
  • Re:wheeewwww (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:36PM (#46518807)

    It needn't produce any backlash. Let's just establish from the get-go that anything that contradicts my political beliefs is bad science.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:48PM (#46518937)

    It’s wrong to publish fabricated or falsified results, and people who do that should be slammed. There are other situations where people are being neglegent or hoping you don’t catch their slight of hand. For instance, there are the innumerable parallel computing papers that use O(N^2) algorithms to show a speedup on a GPU or supercomputer where there exists a serial O(log N) algorithm that runs faster on a PC. (No joke.) All of those sorts of things should be actively retracted.

    However, what we don’t want to do is discourage publication of preliminary results that MIGHT be wrong. Honest, legitimate work that gets superceded should not be subject to retraction, and a wrong theory published can often inspire others to do a better job. When a researcher can say, “That was our best hypothesis at the time, and this was the most accurately we could represent the data,” then it should stand as a legitimate publication. Relativity and quantum mechanics supercede Newtonian physics, but that doesn’t mean we should retract everything Newton said.

    Now, most people reading this will say “duh!” Because that’s obvious. All I’m saying is that we need to be careful to not create an environment where publication of preliminary work is discouraged in any way or where honest mistakes can hurt the career of an honest researcher. That would put a damper on science in general. The bar for retraction should be very high and require solid evidence of intentional wrongdoing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:56PM (#46519007)

    The Climatologists have the data - Compelling data.

    And yet global warming has turned into this politically charged "issue" that has been created that way by moneyed interests who will not make as much money if certain policies to mitigate GW are implements - they won't lose, just not make as much profit.

    What those people don't get, as things get worse - and they will - their interests are now in jeopardy. They will be labeled as the profiteers who paid for propaganda to slow down solutions. They will be labeled as folks who helped keep our heads in the sand and kept this needless "debate" going. Their money will be taken - lawsuits, fines, loss of business because they are liars.

    I have one two words for them "Cigarette Industry".

    They fought tooth and nail to hide, obfuscate, deny, gloss over, etc ... the truth. And in the end, they REALLY got it in the ass because of their actions.

    If they just said up front, "Yeah cigarette smoking will kill you - one way or another - but it's out business and we're supplying what the market wants. And we are more than willing to switch businesses in order to save people and honor our fiduciary duty to our stockholders." they would be in a much better position now.

    But they chose to lie and spread propaganda.

    I think all of the folks who back anti-global warming propaganda should keep that in mind.

    And let's just say that the one in a billion chance that global warming is just one big cock up of the scientific community (The odds are better that I'll win PowerBall 3 times in a row), we'll have cleaner air, water, less dependency on the whims of the international oil market, and our lives will be better - because we choose greener and cleaner energy.

    Going with the Global Warming crowd is a win-win from my perspective.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @04:02PM (#46519051)

    What about all the pro-global warming propaganda; aimed at securing grants, currying favor from academic mentors, generating press, enlisting public support, and so on.? Should that be exempt from criticism?

    Is that your idea of science? "My cause is the right one, therefore it shouldn't ever be challenged."

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @04:03PM (#46519059) Journal

    Depends how "meta" they are. If their careful and question peer review practices and point out common methodology pitfalls, they might do OK. Better still would be to simply do science: science that refutes bogus published results through failure to reproduce the experiment as described. While that's absolutely key for science to work, no one funds it.

  • by HighOrbit ( 631451 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @05:53PM (#46519823)
    This link is blatant right-wing propaganda, but funny as hell. Especially the one about fish.

    http://www.consumerfreedom.com... [consumerfreedom.com]

    But on a serious note, todays NY Times had an "according to the latest study" acticle about a study that claims that all that stuff we've been told for decades about dietary fat being unhealthly is untrue. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/... [nytimes.com]. Now since this contradicts several decades of observation, I tend to take "latest study" science with a grain of salt and give more credence to well verified (i.e. long term) science.

    The problem with bad science is that it gets reproduced in the popular press (and popular imagination) even if it is later proven false. Case in point: the notorious vacination-autism fiasco. Another example is the "neutrino faster than light" results released a few years back in Italy. As Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."

    You can never fully discount the possibility that the guy releasing the results of the latest study is an attention-whore looking to drum up sensationalism to have his 15 minutes of fame. Scientiest are human and subject to the same vanities as everyone else.

    Bottom line, never trust preliminary results.
  • by wbtittle ( 456702 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @06:08PM (#46519941) Homepage

    They are only acting as the authority to point out the problems. There are huge problems in epidemiology. The really useful data gathered by epidemiology is not the positive correlations, it is the non correlations. This presents a rather ugly problem. The data that people find interesting are the positive correlations. With the exception of 1 or 2 studies, these are pretty much worthless. The data that shows a link isn't there is what is really useful. This is the source of all the bad research.

    If you look at epidemiological studies, you find lots of RRs, HRs, and ORs (Relative Risk, Hazard Ratio, Odds Ratio). The confounding factor that is ignored is the Survival Ratio. The ratio of the survivors of doing something to the survivors of not doing that something. This number is almost always 99.99...% One exception is lung cancer and smoking. The survival ratio there is 92%. 92% of people who smoke their whole lives do not get lung cancer. (some simplification here).

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @06:12PM (#46519969) Journal

    Should that be exempt from criticism?

    Of course not, however you need more than just vague accusations, how about some actual evidence? Who are these greedy scientists and why do the criticisms sound like a creationist conspiracy theory? Who is paying for this "propaganda", what personal benefit do they gain from convincing people AGW is real? Why are these particular criticisms only raised on particular subjects such as AGW, evolution, and lung cancer? How is it that other scientists such as people hunting exo-planets are never accused of inventing planets "for the grant money"? Could it be because the findings from some branches of science threaten the power and purse of the rich and careless?

    Is that your idea of science? "My cause is the right one, therefore it shouldn't ever be challenged."

    The "cause" of science it to seek truth knowing you will never attain it. The "cause" of the billionaire neo-luddites is to make sure that critical thinking doesn't catch on with the general public.

    securing grants, currying favor from academic mentors, generating press, enlisting public support, and so on.?

    What exactly is wrong with any of that, does it not just add up to an ambitious scientist? Is the ambition of seeking the truth a bad thing in your eyes, or do you only see tax dollars going in one end and a "rich scientist" (lol) saying something you don't like coming out the other end?

    What about all the pro-global warming propaganda

    The pseudo-skeptic's reverse charge of propaganda from scientists is pure nonsense, sensationalism and exaggeration in the press is not "propaganda". Look at the technological wonder of the modern world around you for god's sake, propaganda is more than a mere lie, it a powerful psychological tool that convinces you that despite the futuristic world you find yourself in - (some) Science doesn't work.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.