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THE IRREPRODUCIBILITY CRISIS OF MODERN SCIENCE

April 17, 2018
By David Randall AND Christopher Welser

Study shows how modern researchers misuse statistics to come to scientific conclusions that can't be reproduced.

This NAS report examines  the use and abuse of statistics in the sciences in the hopes of reaching scientists and  a broader audience of intelligent readers alike to understand the critical importance of science to society and thus the need to maintain scientific standards and the integrity of the scientific method – most importantly reproducibility of findings as a key feature of scientific progress.

NAS’s notes there are rising threats to scientific integrity, some political, some ideological, and some epistemic – the latter of which this report focuses upon.  The report states:

The former include efforts to enforce an artificial ‘consensus’ on various fields of inquiry, such as climate science. The ideological threats also include the growing insistence that academic positions in the sciences be filled with candidates chosen partly on the basis of race and sex.  This report deals with an epistemic problem, which is most visible in the large numbers of articles in reputable peer-reviewed journals in the sciences that have turned out to be invalid or highly questionable. Findings from experimental work or observational studies turn out, time and again, to be irreproducible.

The NAS wishes to emphasize how important the tie is between the purely scientific irreproducibility crisis and its political effects. Sloppy procedures don’t just allow for sloppy science. They allow, as opportunistic infections, politicized groupthink and advocacy-driven science. Above all, they allow for progressive skews and inhibitions on scientific research, especially in ideologically driven fields such as climate science, radiation biology, and social psychology (marriage law). Not all irreproducible research is progressive advocacy; not all progressive advocacy is irreproducible; but the intersection between the two is very large.