Science and Skepticism

Is science broken? If so, how can we fix it?

On Monday March 19, I attended the Science and Skepticism symposium at McGill, which aimed to answer this very question.

As of late, there has been an increase in the lack of reproducibility of published studies within the field. Why is this? The current structures of academic success; funding and promotion, all rely on the ability of a scientist to publish novel ideas in high impact journals. The competitive nature of this has lead many to make inflated claims about their research findings and let’s face it, bad science. Therefore, we should all be critical of studies that sound too good to be true.

The good news is, things are getting better. The increase in critical skepticism has lead to a focus on transparency in research. Does this mean skepticism is good? Well, hold on. When it comes to science skeptics, there are 2 kinds; judicious skeptics who are science reformers and want to increase understanding of science, and motivated skeptics, who want to undermine science, they often identify as “anti-science”. Science reformers are the ones calling for transparency and openness in how studies are being carried out to ensure that good science wins.

Why should I care? Scientific discoveries can lead to new treatments, technologies and  ways to make our lives easier. False claims do nothing but waste money, let down society and increase talking points for anti-science skeptics. Furthermore, as research often builds off previous work in the field, symposium panelist Richard Harris, a Science Correspondent on National Public Radio contends that thousands of published papers may be incorrect or false.

The real question now becomes, how can we silence the skeptics who feed into the “science is broken” narrative? Symposium panelist Steven Goodman from the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford is calling for a paradigm shift in what we consider reproducibility. One that focusses on the efficiency of the truth and the cumulative evidence that enforces it.

To answer the question, no science is not broken. The increase in anti-science comes from the lack of understanding of the difference between good and bad research practices. Moving forward, transparency can lead to an appreciation for good science which focusses on finding the truth, which at the end of the day, is all science really is about anyway.


Banner Image from McGill Biomedical Ethics: https://www.mcgill.ca/biomedicalethicsunit/scienceandskepticism

 

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