Bad Research Done Badly

Today’s moral – and never, ever forget this one when you’re sorting through options – is that any time there are humans involved in research, be suspicious. If human scientists are doing research on human subjects then take your suspicions to the power of 27. It’s a crapshoot at best.

You might have read the headlines: a group of 270 researchers, calling themselves the Open Science Consortium, selected 100 published research papers in psychology and attempted to replicate the findings. Over half failed the tests. I wasn’t shocked nor was I surprised. The further you move away from a computer measuring inanimate matter toward work with living things and humans, the more trouble you are bound to have. Thinking things are just damned tough to work with and almost impossible to predict. Even with a rat or a dog there are issues that must be addressed. Rats live communally but are housed individually in research labs. How does this affect results? In all my time in research, I never once found anyone interested in the question though we were publishing papers about rat neurology. Or dogs: how does the fact that a dog likes you and wants to please you change them? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone does.

Along with the Open Science Consortium, here is an article at the Harvard Gazette about a couple of researchers who are kind of crabby to learn that their field has a less than pristine reputation for robust research. They examined the Consortium’s work and found it to be mostly meaningless with as many errors as the work they were reporting on. The article has a tone that makes me think that someone got caught with their finger in the pie but I don’t know for sure. And I  don’t know who. But the average reader comes away with a firm sense that both can’t be right and that someone is in the wrong.

There’s a good message here for anyone interested in science or research or official pronouncements: be wary. Not everything is as it seems. If it involves human beings in any part of the equation then be extra careful. Whether it’s religion or nutrition or politics or even my old field of endocrinology, remember that just because someone is in a white lab coat says it or writes it doesn’t make it true.

Be skeptical my friend.


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Posted in Science, The Good Life.