Is Scientific Research Flawed?

We tend to think of science as a dispassionate (impartial, neutral) search for truth and certainty. But is it possible that we are facing a situation in which there is a massive production of wrong information or distortion of information? Is it possible that certain scientific disciplines are facing a crisis of credibility? Mounting evidence suggests this is indeed the case, which raises two questions: How serious is the problem? And what could explain this?

How Serious Is the Problem?

Recent articles in First Things, The Week, and New Scientist present evidence that warrants the conclusion that flawed scientific research results are widespread.

The title of an editorial in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, dated April 6, 2002, asks the question, “Just How Tainted Has Medicine Become?” The article states, “Heavily, and damagingly so, is the answer.” Among other things, in 2001, researchers completed experiments with biotechnology products in which they had a direct financial interest and doctors did not tell their patients that others had died using these products when safer alternatives were available. In the same journal, dated April 11, 2015, Dr. Richard Horton stated the gravity of the problem as follows: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue . . . science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

In 2004, under the heading of “Depressing Research,” the editor of The Lancet had this to say about antidepressants for children: “The story of research into selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) use in childhood depression is one of confusion, manipulation, and institutional failure.... In a global medical culture where evidence-based practice is seen as the gold standard for care, these failings [i.e., of the USA Food and Drug Administration to act on information provided to them about the harmful effects of these drugs on children] are a disaster.” After being editor of the New England Journal of Medicine for 20 years, Dr. Marcia Angell stated that “physicians can no longer rely on the medical literature for valid and reliable information.” She referred to a study of 74 clinical trials of antidepressants that indicates that 37 of 38 positive studies were published. In contrast, 33 of the 36 negative studies were either not published or published in a form that conveyed a positive outcome. She also mentions the fact that drug companies are financing “most clinical research on the prescription drugs, and there is mounting evidence that they often skew the research they sponsor to make their drugs look better and safer.”

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