Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for the ‘fraud in medicine’ Category

Why skepticism about science and medicine?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/06

My skepticism is not about science and medicine as sources or repositories of objective knowledge and understanding. Skepticism is demanded by the fact that what society learns about science and medicine is mediated by human beings. That brings in a host of reasons for skepticism: human fallibility, individual and institutional self-interest, conflicts of interest, sources of bias and prejudice.

I have never come across a better discussion of the realities about science and its role in society than Richard Lewontin’s words in his book, Biology as Ideology (Anansi Press 1991, HarperPerennial 1992; based on 1990 Massey Lectures, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):

“Science is a social institution about which there is a great deal of misunderstanding, even among those who are part of it. . . [It is] completely integrated into and influenced by the structure of all our other social institutions. The problems that science deals with, the ideas that it uses in investigating those problems, even the so-called scientific results that come out of scientific investigation, are all deeply influenced by predispositions that derive from the society in which we live. Scientists do not begin life as scientists, after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience.
. . . science is molded by society because it is a human productive activity that takes time and money, and so is guided by and directed by those forces in the world that have control over money and time. Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it. does it. More than that, those forces have the power to appropriate from science ideas that are particularly suited to the maintenance and continued prosperity of the social structures of which they are a part. So other social institutions have an input into science both in what is done and how it is thought about, and they take from science concepts and ideas that then support their institutions and make them seem legitimate and natural. . . .
Science serves two functions. First, it provides us with new ways of manipulating the material world . . . . [Second] is the function of explanation” (pp. 3-4). And (p. 5) explaining how the world works also serves as legitimation.

Needed skepticism takes into account that every statement disseminated about science or medicine serves in some way the purpose(s), the agenda(s), of the source or sources of that statement.

So the first thing to ask about any assertion about science or medicine is, why is this statement being made by this particular source?

Statements by pharmaceutical companies, most particularly their advertisements, should never be believed, because, as innumerable observers and investigators have documented, the profit motive has outweighed any concern for the harm that unsafe medications cause even as there is no evidence for definite potential benefit. The best way to decide on whether or not to prescribe or use a drug is by comparing NNT and NNH, the odds on getting benefit compared to the odds of being harmed; but NNT and NNH are never reported by drug companies. For example, there is no evidence whatsoever that HPV vaccination decreases the risk of any cancer; all that has been observed is that the vaccines may decrease genital warts. On the other hand, many individuals have suffered grievous harm from “side” effects of these vaccines (see Holland 2018 in the bibliography cited just below, and the documentary, Sacrificial Virgins. TV ads by Merck, for example in August 2020 on MSNBC, cite the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as recommending the vaccine not only for girls but also for boys.

For fully documented discussions of the pervasive misdeeds of drug companies, consult the books listed in my periodically updated bibliography, What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine.
I recommend particularly Angell 2004, Goldacre 2013, Gøtzsche 2013, Healy 2012, Moynihan, & Cassels 2005. Greene 2007 is a very important but little-cited book describing how numbers and surrogate markers have come to dominate medical practice, to the great harm of patients.

Official reports may be less obviously deceitful than drug company advertisements, but they are no more trustworthy, as argued in detail and with examples in “Official reports are not scientific publications”, chapter 3 in my Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012):
“reports from official institutions and organizations . . . are productions by bureaucracies . . . . The actual authors of these reports are technical writers whose duties are just like those of press secretaries, advertising writers, and other public-relations personnel: to put on the actual evidence and conclusions the best possible spin to reinforce the bureaucracy’s viewpoint and emphasize the importance of the bureaucracy’s activities.
Most important: The Executive Summaries, Forewords, Prefaces, and the like may tell a very different story than does the actual evidence in the bulk of the reports. It seems that few if any pundits actually read the whole of such documents. The long public record offers sad evidence that most journalists certainly do not look beyond these summaries into the meat of the reports, given that the media disseminate uncritically so many of the self-serving alarums in those Executive Summaries” (p. 213).

So too with press releases from academic institutions.

As for statements direct from academic and professional experts, recall that, as Lewontin pointed out, “people earn their living by science”. Whenever someone regarded as an expert or authority makes public statements, an important purpose is to enhance the status, prestige, career, profitability, of who is making the statement. This is not to suggest that such statements are made with deliberate dishonesty; but the need to preserve status, as well as the usual illusion that what one believes is actually true, ensures that such statements will be dogmatically one-sided assertions, not judicious assessments of the objective state of knowledge.

Retired academic experts like myself no longer suffer conflicts of interest at a personal or institutional-loyalty level. When we venture critiques of drug companies, official institutions, colleges and universities, and even individual “experts” or former colleagues, we will be usually saying what we genuinely believe to be unvarnished truth. Nevertheless, despite the lack of major obvious conflicts of interest, one should have more grounds than that for believing what we have to say. We may still have an unacknowledged agenda, for instance a desire still to do something useful even as our careers are formally over. Beyond that, of course, like any other human beings, we may simply be wrong, no matter that we ourselves are quite sure that we are right. Freedom from frank, obvious conflicts of interest does not bring with it some superhuman capacity for objectivity let alone omniscience.

In short:
Believe any assertion about science or medicine, from any source, at your peril.
If the matter is of any importance to you, you had best do some investigating of evidence and facts, and comparison of diverse interpretations.

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Percentages absolute or relative? Politicizing science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/08/24

Convalescent plasma reduces the mortality of CoVID-19 by 35%, citizens of the United States were assured in a press conference on 23 August 2020, and the approval of this treatment for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) underscored that this constituted a breakthrough in treating the pandemic disease.

As usual, critical voices ventured to disagree. One physician reported that he had been using this treatment for a considerable length of time and had noted a perhaps marginal, certainly not great benefit for this intervention. Others pointed out that the use of convalescent plasma in general was nothing new.

That “35%” mortality reduction was emphasized a number of times in the televised official announcement. It was only a few days later that we learned that the original data suggested a reduction of mortality to about 8% from 11-12% for presumably comparable patients not so treated. In other words, 3 to 4% of patients may have derived a benefit in terms of decreased mortality.

Indeed, 8 is about 35% less than 11-12. However, a 3.5% reduction in mortality is nothing like a 35% reduction.

This episode illustrates what is quite commonplace as drug companies seek to impress doctors and patients with the wonderful benefits to be derived from their medications: relative effects rather than absolute ones are reported.

This is just one of the many things wrong with present-day practices in medicine, of course; dozens of works describing the dysfunctions are listed in my periodically updated bibliography.

Investigative reporters also revealed and that the FDA’s emergency use approval had come at the behest of the White House. Historians will recall that the whole science of genetics was derailed in the Soviet Union for a generation as Stalin’s administration enshrined as science the pseudoscience invented by Lysenko.

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs, scientific literacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Modern Psychiatric Diagnosis is Bullshit

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/07/09

I use the term   “bullshit”, of course, as the appropriate description of “assertions made without regard to whether or not they have any truth value”, following the analysis of professor of philosophy Harry Frankfurt in his book On Bullshit (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Those who commit bullshit orally or in writing do, of course, often imagine that they are asserting something that is true, but they are merely parroting popular shibboleths, “what everyone knows”,  without having taken any time it to examine the evidence for themselves (see Climate change is responsible for everything, as everyone knows (but what everyone knows is usually wrong).

Extraordinary as it may seem, the professional reference work on psychiatric diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association and (since 2013) in its 5th edition (DSM-5), gives every appearance of having been put together without any careful attention to evidence, or for that matter to whether it makes any sense.

A couple of years ago, I pointed to the nonsense incorporated in DSM-5 about ADHD — Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (The banality of evil — Psychiatry and ADHD).

Now, the peer-reviewed professional journal Psychiatry Research has published a detailed analysis revealing that the diagnostic categories in DSM-5 make no sense in theory or in practice: (Allsopp et al., Heterogeneity in psychiatric diagnostic classification, Psychiatry Research 279 (2019) 15–22; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.07.005).

It should suffice to offer two quotes:

“ [I]n the majority of diagnoses in both DSM-IV-TR and DSM-5 (64% and 58.3% respectively), two people could receive the same diagnosis without sharing any common symptoms.”

“[T]here are 270 million combinations of symptoms that would meet the criteria for both PTSD and major depressive disorder, and when five other commonly made diagnoses are seen alongside these two, the figure rises to one quintillion symptom combinations — more than the number of stars in the Milky Way.”

QED

Of course, the professional literature refrains from exposing its guild’s follies, the nakedness of the unclothed Emperor, to the general public, hence the article’s title is “Heterogeneity in psychiatric diagnostic classification”, unlikely to catch the eye of the uninitiated, rather than the plain “Modern psychiatric diagnosis is bullshit”, but both are saying the same thing. As George Bernard Shaw noted a century or so ago, “All professions are conspiracies against the laity”.

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Pseudo-science of ADHD at FDA

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/05/27

Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder, ADHD, is diagnosed on the basis of an entirely subjective scale which is also irrational,  for example in postulating different criteria at different ages (The banality of evil — Psychiatry and ADHD).

The diagnostic criteria for ADHD are purely behavioral, since no physical basis for ADHD has ever been established. Of course, ADHD is far from alone in that respect among the disorders catalogued in psychiatry’s “Bible”, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), now (since 2013) in its 5th edition (DSM-V or DSM-5).

Despite the lack of  any proven physical basis for mental disorders, psychiatry has experimented with such physical treatments as lobotomy and shock treatment (nowadays described as electroconvulsive therapy, ECT).

Psychiatry’s latest venture into treatment of ADHD Is the application of electrical stimuli based on what can only be described as guesswork about a possible physical basis for ADHD and further guesswork as to whether the stimuli could accomplish anything useful. “Guesswork” because this extraordinary intervention has been approved by the FDA on the basis of a ridiculously limited clinical trial (FDA permits marketing of first medical device for treatment of ADHD):
“62 children with moderate to severe ADHD were enrolled in the trial and used either the eTNS therapy each night or a placebo device at home for four weeks”.
The results were anything but spectacular, indeed not very convincing at all:
“the average ADHD-RS score in the active group decreased from 34.1 points at baseline to 23.4 points, versus a decrease from 33.7 to 27.5 points in the placebo group.”
Bearing in mind that these scores come from subjective assessments, one might conclude that the trial results might — at best — serve as a basis for continuing research.
Or perhaps one might conclude more cautiously, indeed more sensibly,  that further research might not be warranted since the treatment has undesirable side-effects:
“The most common side effects observed with eTNS use are: drowsiness, an increase in appetite, trouble sleeping, teeth clenching, headache and fatigue. No serious adverse events were associated with use of the device.”
Not all parents might agree, after all,  that it is of no serious concern that children have difficulty in sleeping and experience headache, fatigue, and teeth clenching, particularly as there is no guarantee of any benefits.

So far as the ADHD-RS is concerned, note how easily a total score could change by 10 points or more, when rating on a 0-3 scale such behavior as

1. Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless
mistakes in schoolwork.

or

2. Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat

Ponder the full scale of 18 items, yielding scores between 0 and 54, so an average of 27:         ADHD-RS -IV


Words fail me. For an appropriate critique, see Michael Cornwall,
DA Approves Using Electricity All Night Long on Children’s Brains, 21 May 2019

 

 

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Aluminum adjuvants, autoimmune diseases, and attempted suppression of the truth

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/03/24

An earlier post (Adjuvants — the poisons hidden in some vaccines) described the danger that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines pose, including that they may indeed be associated with a risk of inducing autism. A recent book, How to End the Autism Epidemic,   underscores that risk and exposes what should be the crippling, disqualifying conflicts of interest of one of the most prominent accepted experts on vaccinations. I had learned about this from a splendidly informative article by Celeste McGovern at Ghost Ship Media (Prescription to end the autism epidemic, 17 September 2018).

It turns out that animals as well as human beings have experienced tangible harm from vaccines containing aluminum adjuvants: in particular, sheep. Celeste McGovern has reported about that in other recent posts:
Spanish sheep study finds vaccine aluminum in lymph nodes more than a year after injection, behavioural changes, 3 November 2018; Vaccines induce bizarre anti-social behaviour in sheep, 6 November 2018; Anatomy of a science study censorship, 20 March 2019.

This last piece describes the attempt to prevent the truth about aluminum adjuvants from becoming public knowledge, by pressuring the publisher, Elsevier, to withdraw an already accepted, peer-reviewed article in one of its journals: “Cognition and behavior in sheep repetitively inoculated with aluminum adjuvant-containing vaccines or aluminum adjuvant only”, by Javier Asína et al., published online in Pharmacological Research before being withdrawn. Fortunately there are   nowadays resources on the Internet that make it more difficult for the censors to do their dirty work. One invaluable resource is the Wayback Machine, which too few people seem to know about. In the present case, a PDF of the Asína et al. article, as accepted and published online as “In Press” in Pharmacological Research, is available at ResearchGate.

Elsevier publishes thousands of scientific and medical journals, including in the past some that were actually advertisements written by and paid for by pharmaceutical companies, presented dishonestly and misleadingly as genuine scientific periodicals: Elsevier published 6 fake journals); Elsevier had a whole division publishing fake medical journals).

Elsevier had also engaged in censorship on earlier occasions, in one case to the extent of emasculating a well respected, independent publication, Medical Hypotheses (see Chapter 3, “A Public Act of Censorship: Elsevier and Medical Hypotheses”, in Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth).

If the shenanigans and cover-ups about aluminum adjuvants make an insufficiently alarming horror story,   please look at yet another article by Celeste McGovern: Poisoned in Slow Motion, 1 October 2018:

“Immune-system disease is sweeping the globe. . . . Autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants, or ASIA — a wildly unpredictable inflammatory response to foreign substances injected or inserted into the human body . . . . The medical literature contains hundreds of such cases. . . . [with] vague and sundry symptoms — chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment, skin rashes and more . . . that . . . share the common underlying trigger of certain immune signaling pathways. Sometimes this low-grade inflammation can smolder for years only to suddenly incite an overt autoimmune disease. . . . Chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalitis), once a rare “hypochondriac” disorder, now affects millions of people globally and has been strongly associated with markers of immune system dysfunction. . . . One in thirteen American children has a hyperactive immune system resulting in food allergy,4 and asthma, another chronic inflammatory disease of the immune system, affects 300 million people across the globe.5 Severe neurological disorders like autism (which now affects one in 22 boys in some US states) have soared from virtual nonexistence and are also linked to a damaged immune system.”

[4. Pediatrics, 2011; 128: e9-17
5. Global Initiative for Asthma. Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention. 2008.
6. Eur J Pediatr, 2014; 173: 33-43]

******************************************************************

These particulars offer further illustrations of the general points that I have been making for some time:

 Science and medicine have become dogmatic wielders of authority through being co-opted and in effect bought out by commercial interests. Pharmaceutical companies are perhaps in the forefront of this takeover, but the influence of other industries should not be forgotten, for instance that of Monsanto with its interest in Genetically Modified products; see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, Jefferson (NC): McFarland 2012

 Science, research, medicine, are very different things nowadays than they were up to about the middle of the 20th century, and very different from the conventional wisdom about them. Media, policy makers, and the public need an independent, impartial assessment of what science and medicine are said to have established; needed is  a Science Court; see Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed, McFarland, 2017

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, legal considerations, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

HPV does not cause cervical cancer; HPV vaccination can be deadly

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/16

Evidence continues to mount that the presumed connection between HPV and cervical cancer is no more than a statistical association, not a causative relationship:

The Gardasil controversy: as reports of adverse effects increase, cervical cancer rates rise in HPV-vaccinated age groups 

Annette Gartland

“The Gardasil vaccines continue to be vaunted as life-saving, but there is no evidence that HPV vaccination is reducing the incidence of cervical cancer, and reports of adverse effects now total more than 85,000 worldwide. Nearly 500 deaths are suspected of being linked to quadrivalent Gardasil or Gardasil 9.
As Merck’s latest human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil 9, continues to be fast tracked around the world, the incidence of invasive cervical cancer is increasing in many of the countries in which HPV vaccination is being carried out.”

Once again independent scientists without conflicts of interest are maltreated by bureaucratic organizations with conflicts of interest to commercial interests, drug companies in particular:

“This article was updated with information from the AHVID on 14/09/2018.
Update 15/9/2018:
Peter Gøtzsche has been expelled from the Cochrane Collaboration. Six of the 13 members of the collaboration’s governing board voted for his expulsion.
. . . . .
‘This is the first time in 25 years that a member has been excluded from membership of Cochrane. This unprecedented action taken by a minority of the governing board . . . . ‘
In just 24 hours, Gøtzsche said, the Cochrane governing board had lost five of its members, four of whom were centre directors and key members of the organisation in different countries.
Gøtzsche says that, in recent years, Cochrane has significantly shifted more to a profit-driven approach.
‘Even though it is a not-for-profit charity, our ‘brand’ and ‘product’ strategies are taking priority over getting out independent, ethical and socially responsible scientific results,’ he said'”.

 

 

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How science changed — IV. Cutthroat competition and outright fraud

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/04/15

The discovery of the structure of DNA was a metaphorical “canary in the coal mine”, warning of the intensely competitive environment that was coming to scientific activity. The episode illustrates in microcosm the seismic shift in the circumstances of scientific activity that started around the middle of the 20th century [1], the replacement of one set of unwritten rules by another set [2].
The structure itself was discovered by Watson and Crick around 1950, but it was only in 1968, with the publication of Watson’s personal recollections, that attention was focused on how Watson’s approach and behavior marked a break from the traditional unwritten rules of scientific activity.
It took even longer for science writers and journalists to realize just how cutthroat the competition had become in scientific and medical research. Starting around 1980 there appeared a spate of books describing fierce fights for priority on a variety of specific topics:
Ø    The role of the brain in the release of hormones; Guillemin vs. Schally — Nicholas Wade, The Nobel Duel: Two Scientists’ 21-year Race to Win the World’s Most Coveted Research Prize, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1981.
Ø    The nature and significance of a peculiar star-like object — David H. Clark, The Quest for SS433, Viking, 1985.
Ø    “‘Mentor chains’, characterized by camaraderie and envy, for example in neuroscience and neuropharmacology” — Robert Kanigel, Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty, Macmillan, 1986.
Ø    High-energy particle physics, atom-smashers — Gary Taubes, Nobel Dreams: Power, Deceit, and the Ultimate Experiment, Random House, 1986.
Ø    “Soul-searching, petty rivalries, ridiculous mistakes, false results as rivals compete to understand oncogenes” — Natalie Angier, Natural Obsessions: The Search for the Oncogene, Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Ø    “The brutal intellectual darwinism that dominates the high-stakes world of molecular genetics research” — Stephen S. Hall, Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesize a Human Gene, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987.
Ø    “How the biases and preconceptions of paleoanthropologists shaped their work” — Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, Simon & Schuster, 1987.
Ø    “The quirks of . . . brilliant . . . geniuses working at the extremes of thought” — Ed Regis, Who Got Einstein’s Office: Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study, Addison-Wesley, 1987.
Ø    High-energy particle physics — Sheldon Glashow with Ben Bova, Interactions: A Journey Through the Mind of a Particle Physicist and the Matter of the World, Warner, 1988.
Ø    Discovery of endorphins — Jeff Goldberg, Anatomy of a Scientific Discovery, Bantam, 1988.
Ø    “Intense competition . . . to discover superconductors that work at practical temperatures “ — Robert M. Hazen, The Breakthrough: The Race for the Superconductor, Summit, 1988.
Ø    Science is done by human beings — David L. Hull, Science as a Process, University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Ø    Competition to get there first — Charles E. Levinthal, Messengers of Paradise: Opiates and the Brain, Anchor/Doubleday 1988.
Ø    “Political machinations, grantsmanship, competitiveness” — Solomon H. Snyder, Brainstorming: The Science and Politics of Opiate Research, Harvard University Press, 1989.
Ø    Commercial ambitions in biotechnology — Robert Teitelman, Gene Dreams: Wall Street, Academia, and the Rise of Biotechnology, Basic Books, 1989.
Ø    Superconductivity, intense competition — Bruce Schechter, The Path of No Resistance: The Story of the Revolution in Superconductivity, Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), 1990.
Ø    Sociological drivers behind scientific progress, and a failed hypothesis — David M. Raup, The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science, Norton 1999.

These titles illustrate that observers were able to find intense competitiveness wherever they looked in science; though mostly in medical or biological science, with physics including astronomy the next most frequently mentioned field of research.
Watson’s memoir had not only featured competition most prominently, it had also revealed that older notions of ethical behavior no longer applied: Watson was determined to get access to competitors’ results even if those competitors were not yet anxious to reveal all to him [3]. It was not only competitiveness that increased steadily over the years; so too did the willingness to engage in behavior that not so long before had been regarded as improper.
Amid the spate of books about how competitive research had become, there also was published. Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science by science journalists William Broad and Nicholas Wade (Simon & Schuster, 1982). This book argued that dishonesty has always been present in science, citing in an appendix 33 “known or suspected” cases of scientific fraud from 1981 back to the 2nd century BC. These actual data could not support the book’s sweeping generalizations [4], but Broad and Wade had been very early to draw attention to the fact that dishonesty in science was a significant problem. What they failed to appreciate was why: not that there had always been a notable frequency of fraud in science but that scientific activity was changing in ways that were in process of making it a different kind of thing than in the halcyon few centuries of modern science from the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century.
Research misconduct had featured in Congressional Hearings as early as 1981. Soon the Department of Health and Human Services established an Office of Scientific Integrity, now the Office of Research Integrity. Its mission is to instruct research institutions about preventing fraud and dealing with allegations of it. Scientific periodicals began to ask authors to disclose conflicts of interest, and co-authors to state specifically what portions of the work were their individual responsibility.
Academe has proliferated Centers for Research and Medical Ethics [5], and there are now periodicals entirely devoted to such matters [6]. Courses in research ethics have become increasingly common; it is even required that such courses be available at institutions that receive research funds from federal agencies.
In 1989, the Committee on the Conduct of Science of the National Academy of Sciences issued the booklet On Being a Scientist, which describes proper behavior; that booklet’s 3rd edition, titled A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, makes even clearer that the problem of scientific misconduct is now widely seen as serious.
Another indication that dishonesty has increased is the quite frequent retraction of published research reports: Retraction Watch estimates that 500-600 published articles are retracted annually. John Ioannidis has made a specialty of reviewing literature for consistency, and reported: “Why most published research findings are false” [7]. Nature has an archive devoted to this phenomenon [8].

Researchers half a century ago would have been aghast and disbelieving at all this, that science could have become so untrustworthy. It has happened because science changed from an amateur avocation to a career that can bring fame and wealth [9]; and scientific activity changed from a cottage industry to a highly bureaucratic corporate industry, with pervasive institutional as well as individual conflicts of interest; and researchers’ demands for support have far exceeded the available supply.

And as science changed, it drew academe along with it. More about that later.

===============================================

[1]    How science changed — III. DNA: disinterest loses, competition wins
[2]    How science has changed— II. Standards of Truth and of Behavior
[3]    The individuals Watson mentioned as getting him access corrected his recollections: they shared with him nothing that was confidential. The significant point remains that Watson had no such scruples.
[4]    See my review, “Betrayers of the truth: a fraudulent and deceitful title from the journalists of science”, 4S Review, 1 (#3, Fall) 17–23.
[5]   There is an Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. Physical Centers have been established at: University of California, San Diego (Center for Ethics in Science and Technology); University of Delaware (Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy); Michigan State University (Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences); University of Notre Dame (John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values).
[6]    Accountability in Research (founded 1989); Science and Engineering Ethics (1997); Ethics and Information Technology (1999); BMC Medical Ethics (2000); Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics (2001).
[7]    John P. A. Ioannidis, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”, PLoS Medicine, 2 (2005): e124. 
[8]    “Challenges in irreproducible research”
[9]    How science has changed: Who are the scientists?

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How science has changed — II. Standards of Truth and of Behavior

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/04/08

The scientific knowledge inherited from ancient Babylon and Greece and from medieval Islam was gained by individuals or by groups isolated from one another in time as well as geography. Perhaps the most consequential feature of the “modern” science that we date from the 17th-century Scientific Revolution is the global interaction of the people who are doing science, and especially the continuity over time of their collective endeavors.
These interactions among scientists began in quite informal and individual ways. An important step was the formation of academies and societies, among which the Royal Society of London is usually acknowledged to be the earliest (founded 1660) that has remained active up to the present time — though it was not the earliest such institution and even the claim of “longest continually active” has been challenged [1].
Even nowadays, the global community of scientists remains in many ways informal despite the host of scientific organizations and institutions, national and international: the global scientific community is not governed by any formal structure that lays down how science should be done and how scientists should behave.
However, observing the actualities of scientific activity indicates that there had evolved some agreed-on standards generally seen within the community of scientists as proper behavior. Around the time of the Second World War, sociologist Robert Merton described those informal standards, and they came to be known as the “Mertonian Norms” of science [2]. They comprise:

Ø    Communality or communalism (Merton had said “communism”): Science is an activity of the whole scientific community and it is a public good — findings are shared freely and openly.
Ø    Universalism: Knowledge about the natural world is universally valid and applicable. There are no separations or distinctions by nationality or religion race or anything of that sort.
Ø    Disinterestedness: Science is done for the public good and not for personal benefit; scientists seek to be impartial, objective, unbiased, and not self-serving.
Ø    Skepticism: Claims and reported findings are subject to critical appraisal and testing throughout the scientific community before they can be accepted as proper scientific knowledge.

Note that honesty is not mentioned; it was simply taken for granted.
These norms clearly make sense for a cottage industry, as ideal behavior that individuals should aim for; but they are not appropriate for a corporate environment, they cannot guide the behavior of individuals who are part of some hierarchical enterprise.
In the late 1990s, John Ziman [3] discussed the change in scientific activity as it had morphed from the activities of an informal, voluntary collection of individuals seeking to understand how the world works to a highly organized activity with assigned levels of responsibility and authority and where sources of research funding have a say in what gets done, and which often expect to get something useful in return for their investments, something profitable.
The early cottage industry of science had been essentially self-supporting. Much could be done without expensive equipment. People studied what was conveniently at hand, so there was little need for funds to support travel. Interested patrons and local benefactors could provide the small resources needed for occasional meetings and the publication of findings.
Up to about the middle of the 20th century, universities were able to provide the funds needed for basic research in chemistry and biology and physics. The first sign that exceptional resources could be needed had come in the 1920s when Lawrence constructed the first large “atom-smashing machine”; but that and the need for expensive astronomical telescopes remained outliers in the requirements for the support of scientific research overall.
From about the time of the Second World War, however, research going beyond what had already been accomplished began to require ever more expensive and specialized equipment as well as considerable infrastructure: technicians to support the equipment, glass-blowers and secretaries and book-keepers and librarians, and managers of such ancillary staff; so researchers increasingly came to need support beyond that available from individual patrons or universities. Academic research came to rely increasingly on getting grants for specific research projects from public agencies or from wealthy private foundations.
Although those sources of research funds typically claim that they want to support simply “the best science”, their view of what the best science is does not necessarily jibe with the judgments of the individual researchers [4].
At the same time as research in universities was calling on outside sources of funding, an increasing number of industries were setting up their own laboratories for research specifically toward creating and improving their products and services. Such product-specific “R&D” (research and development) sometimes turned up novel basic knowledge, or revealed the need for such fundamentally new understanding. One consequence has been that some really striking scientific advances have come from such famous industrial laboratories as Bell Telephone Laboratories or the Research Laboratory of General Electric. Researchers employed in industry have received a considerable number of Nobel Prizes, often jointly with academics [5].
Under these new circumstances, as Ziman [3] pointed out, the traditional distinction between “applied” research and “pure” or “basic” research lost its meaning.
Ziman rephrased the Mertonian norms as the nice acronym CUDOS, adding the “O” for originality, quite appropriately since within the scientific community credit was and is given to for the most innovative, original contributions; CUDOS, or preferably “kudos”, being the Greek term for acclaim of exceptional accomplishment. By contrast, Ziman proposed for the norms that obtain in a corporate scientific enterprise, be it government or private, the acronym PLACE: Researchers nowadays get their rewards not by adhering to the Mertonian norms but by producing Proprietary findings whose significance may be purely Local rather than universal, the subject of research having been chosen under the Authority of an employer or patron and not by the individual researcher, who is Commissioned to do the work as an Expert employee.

Ziman too did not mention honesty; like Merton he simply took it for granted.
Ziman had made an outstanding career in solid-state physics before, in his middle years, he began to publish, starting in 1968 [6] highly insightful works about how science functions, in particular what makes it reliable. In the late 1960s, it had still been reasonable to take honesty in science for granted; but by the time Ziman published Prometheus Bound, honesty in science could no longer be taken for granted; Ziman had failed to notice some of what was happening in scientific activity. Competition for resources and for career advancement had increased to a quite disturbing extent, presumably the impetus for the increasing frequency with which scientists were found to have cheated in some way. Even published, supposedly peer-reviewed research failed later attempted confirmation in many cases, and all too often it was revealed as simply false, faked [7].
More about that in a following blog post.

==========================================

[1]    “The Royal Societies [sic] claim to be the oldest is based on the fact that they developed out of a group that started meeting in Gresham College in 1645 but unlike the Leopoldina this group was informal and even ceased to meet for two years between 1658 and 1660” — according to The Renaissance Mathematicus, “It wasn’t the first but…”
[2]    Robert K. Merton, “The normative structure of science” (1942); most readily accessible as pp. 267–78 in The Sociology of Science (ed. N. Storer, University of Chicago Press, 1973) a collection of Merton’s work
[3]    John Ziman, Prometheus Bound: Science in a Dynamic Steady State, Cambridge University Press, 1994
[4]    Richard Muller, awarded a prize by the National Science Foundation, pointed out that truly innovative studies are unlikely to be funded and need to be carried out more or less surreptitiously; and Charles Townes, who developed masers and lasers, testified to his difficulty in getting research support for that ground-breaking work, or even encouragement from some of his distinguished older colleagues —
Richard A. Muller, “Innovation and scientific funding”, Science, 209 (1980) 880–3
Charles Townes, How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist, Oxford University Press , 1999
[5]    Karina Cummings, “Nobel Science Prizes in industry”;
Nobel Laureates and Research Affiliations
[6]    John Ziman, Public Knowledge (1968); followed by The Force of
Knowledge
(1976); Reliable Knowledge (1978); An Introduction to Science
Studies
(1984); Prometheus Bound (1994); Real Science (2000);
all published by Cambridge University Press
[7]    John P. A. Ioannidis, “Why most published research findings are false”,
         PLoS Medicine, 2 (2005) e124
Daniele Fanelli, “How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data”,
PLoS ONE, 4(#5, 2009): e5738

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, funding research, peer review, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Politics, science, and medicine

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/12/31

I recently posted a blog about President Trump firing members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in which I concluded with
”Above all, the sad and bitter fact is that truth-seeking does not have a political constituency, be it about HIV, AIDS, or anything else”.

That sad state of affairs, the fragile foothold that demonstrable truth has in contemporary society, is owing to a number of factors, including that “Science is broken” and the effective hegemony of political correctness (Can truth prevail?).

A consequence is that public policies are misguided about at least two issues of significant social impact: HIV/AIDS (The Case against HIV), and human-caused global warming (A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?).

Science and medicine are characterized nowadays on quite a number of matters by dogmatic adherence to views that run counter to the undisputed evidence (Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012). To cite just one absurdity (on a matter that has no significant public impact): in cosmology, the prevailing Big-Bang theory of the universe requires that “dark matter” and “dark energy” make up most of the universe, the “dark” signifying that they have never been directly observed; and there are no credible suggestions for how they might be observed directly, and nothing is known about them except that their postulated influences are needed to make Big-Bang theory comport to the facts of the real world. Moreover, a less obviously flawed theory has been available for decades, the “steady-state” theory that envisages continual creation of new matter, observational evidence for which was collected and published by Halton Arp (Qasars, Redshifts and Controversies, Interstellar Media, 1987; Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science, Apeiron, 1998).

Dozens of books have documented what is wrong with contemporary medicine, science, and academe:
Critiques of contemporary science and academe;
What’s wrong with present-day medicine.

The common feature of all the flaws is the failure to respect the purported protocols of “the scientific method”, namely, to test hypotheses against reality and to keep testing theories against reality as new evidence comes in.

Some political commentators have described our world as “post-truth”, and a variety of social commentators have held forth for decades about a “post-modern” world. But the circumstances are not so much “post-truth” or “post-modern” as pre-Enlightenment.

So far as we know and guess, humans accepted as truth the dogmatic pronouncements of elders, shamans, priests, kings, emperors and the like until, perhaps half a millennium ago, the recourse to observable evidence began to supersede acceptance of top-down dogmatic authority. Luther set in motion the process of taking seriously what the Scriptures actually say instead of accepting interpretations from on high. The religious (Christian only) Reformation was followed by the European Enlightenment; the whittling away of political power from traditional rulers; the French Revolution; the Scientific Revolution. By and large, it became accepted, gradually, that truth is to be found by empirical means, that explanations should deal with the observed natural world, that beliefs should be tested against tangible reality.

Science, in its post-17th-century manifestation as “modern science”, came to be equated with tested truth. Stunning advances in understanding confirmed science’s ability to learn accurately about the workings of nature. Phenomena of physics and of astronomy came to be understood; then chemistry; then sub-atomic structure, relativity, quantum mechanics, biochemistry … how could the power of science be disputed?

So it has been shocking, not fully digested by any means, that “science” has become untrustworthy, as shown in the last few decades by, for instance, increasing episodes of dishonesty, fraud, unreproducible claims.

Not yet widely realized is the sea change that has overtaken science since about the middle of the 20th century, the time of World War II. It’s not the scientific method that determines science, it’s the people who are doing the research and interpreting it and using it; and the human activity of doing science has changed out of sight since the early days of modern science. In a seriously oversimplified nutshell:

The circumstances of scientific activity have changed, from about pre-WWII to nowadays, from a cottage industry of voluntarily cooperating, independent, largely disinterested ivory-tower intellectual entrepreneurs in which science was free to do its own thing, namely the unfettered seeking of truth about the natural world, to a bureaucratic corporate-industry-government behemoth in which science has been pervasively co-opted by outside interests and is not free to do its own thing because of the pervasive conflicts of interest. Influences and interests outside science now control the choices of research projects and the decisions of what to publish and what not to make public.

What science is purported to say is determined by people; actions based on what science supposedly says are chosen by people; so nowadays it is political and social forces that determine beliefs about what science says. Thus politically left-leaning people and groups acknowledge no doubt that HIV causes AIDS and that human generation of carbon dioxide is the prime forcer of climate change; whereas politically right-leaning people and groups express doubts or refuse flatly to believe those things.

For more detailed discussion of how the circumstances of science have changed, see “Three stages of modern science”; “The science bubble”; and chapter 1 in Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017).

For how to make science a public good again, to make science truly reflect evidence rather than being determined by political or religious ideology, see chapter 12 in Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017).

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, global warming, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientists are human, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Science is broken: Illustrations from Retraction Watch

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/12/21

I commented before about Science is broken: Perverse incentives and the misuse of quantitative metrics have undermined the integrity of scientific research.  The magazine The Scientist published on 18 December “Top 10 Retractions of 2017 —
Making the list: a journal breaks a retraction record, Nobel laureates Do the Right Thing, and Seinfeld characters write a paper”, compiled by Retraction Watch. It should be widely read and digested for an understanding of the jungle of unreliable stuff nowadays put out under the rubric of “science”.

See also “Has all academic publishing become predatory? Or just useless? Or just vanity publishing?”

 

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, media flaws, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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