“Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science” by Stuart Ritchie (2020) ISBN 978 184 792 5657
With a title like that, the reader may think he is in for a treat – a hard-hitting factual investigation into the death-dealing campaign against DDT; the expensive misinformation about the Ozone Hole; the real story about the AIDS “epidemic” which did not cause us to lose an entire generation; the resources wasted on Anthropogenic Global Warming; the Covid Scam. Lord knows! Since Science decided to whore for Public Policy dollars, there have been lots of “fictions” to target. However, that reader would be disappointed – informed by the book, but nevertheless disappointed.
Dr. Ritchie chooses to focus mainly on his own area of psychology and related medical fields. The fact there is enough fraud, bias, negligence & hype to fill 254 pages of text and another 82 pages of notes in areas mostly far from political prominence tells us much about the current state of “Science”.
Dr. Ritchie’s motivation for writing this book came from an incident in which a journal published a paper reporting what seemed rather unusual results. As good scientists, Ritchie with colleagues at his own and two other universities attempted to replicate the study – all 3 failed. They submitted a paper to the journal in question, but the paper was rejected. It seems the journal had a policy of publishing only “new” studies, not studies which confirmed or refuted previously published material – an approach which completely undermines the scientific method.
Dr. Ritchie’s book illustrates in seemingly endless detail the various ways in which today’s science is perverted. The driving force for much of this (beyond normal human misbehavior) is the academic drive to “Publish or Perish”, which a generally useless anonymous “Peer Review” process does not constrain. All academics know that publications lead to grants (generally from government sources) and grants lead to more publications, in a classic positive feedback loop. The hard-driving scientist these days aims to have a high h index, developed in 2005 by physicist Jorge Hirsch; the author, who clearly knows how the game is played, has an h index of 33 – meaning that 33 of his papers have been cited at least 33 times each. (!)
I can only note in sorrow that I personally have gone through life without having had 33 significant new ideas or unique observations worthy of laying in front of the world.
Dr. Ritchie suggests ways to improve the situation – but most of his suggestions seem complex, which means they could (and would) be gamed by all those bright academics. At least for “science” used to justify Public Policy, the most practical idea is probably the one presented by the late Michael Crichton in an appendix to his novel “State of Fear” – namely, to require a public adversarial trial between proponents of science which is claimed to justify government action and well-funded Devil’s Advocates critiquing that science.