Two years ago medical researcher John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina in Greece offered mathematical "proof" that most published research results are wrong. Now, statisticians using similar methods found—not surprisingly—that the more researchers reproduce a finding, the better chance it has of being true.
The situation is this then: Science is a methodology, applied to the universe by imperfect beings. It is certainly not a dogmatic religion, as some critics will have you believe. But if an effect can be successfully replicated by a variety of researchers, then we can usually be a little more sure that what we are dealing with is reality. More from the article:
Among the most likely reasons for mistakes, he says: a lack of coordination by researchers and biases such as tending to only publish results that mesh with what they expected or hoped to find. Interestingly, Ioannidis predicted that more researchers in the field are not necessarily better—especially if they are overly competitive and furtive, like the fractured U.S. intelligence community, which failed to share information that might have prevented the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Social sciences have an outrageously low signal to noise ratio. How couldn’t they? They a) attract people who’re on average less smart than those who do natural sciences, b) give people a lot more incentive to stick to indefensible conclusions, and c) has a proliferation of methodological minutiae that can get you any result you want. For instance, multiple regression analysis depends on the variables you enter so much that the same data can be shown to lead to wildly different conclusions.
This sounds familiar too. Lastly, I noticed a link on Public Parapsychology to Dean Radin's blog. Dean Radin is to some extent the nemesis of my PhD thesis, because try as I might to replicate his previously published paranormal effects, all I turned up was a whole lot of nothing! From Dean's blog:
On March 8 at 10PM/9C on the A&E; Network I'll be on a special program about premonitions. A&E;'s description of the show: Everyone has dreamt that somebody they love has died. Most of the time, we wake up in horror, only to realize that it was only a dream...But what if it wasn't – What if your dream foretold real tragedy? How would you know that it was really going to happen? Could you do anything to stop it? Cutting-edge research now suggests we may all have the ability to predict what is about to occur. Premonition... precognitive dreams...presentiment...These phenomena might not be a matter of faith, myth, or just making a lucky guess. Premonition will explore extraordinary cases of real people who have had their dreams and nightmares come true.
And so I am reminded of why I turned my back so completely on the question of the paranormal. If most science is pretty shaky, and parapsychology attracts the shakiest of the social scientists, am I really surprised that Dean Radin is still trying to persuade us that the weird experiences that people have are evidence for psychic powers? Over 100 years ago, the open minded compilers of reports of premonitions variously concluded that though the stories were interesting they couldn't possibly be considered evidence for paranormal functioning. And yet Dean Radin manages to peddle his rehashed message to the ignorant masses (the Oprah audience after all is notorious for falling for scams!). Parapsychology is a house of cards, destined to come crashing down. Science is a process of sorting the wheat from the chaff, an endeavour I think we must all take more seriously.Go Top