Sunday, April 01, 2012

Conservatives Are Less Trusting Of Science Because They Are More Rational

Among the authoritarian minded (i.e. American liberals to a man and woman) there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the recalcitrant American conservative who simply refuses to knuckle under and do what their betters tell them to do. This, we are told, is because conservatives are "anti-science." The real reason is conservatives are more likely to adhere to the skepticism inherent in rational scientific discourse, while liberals generally do not challenge the sources of authority because they have PhD's and attend all the right liberal cocktail parties (evidently.)

The problem, for liberals, arises when reality is examined, like in this story: In cancer science, many 'discoveries' don't hold up

A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer -- a high proportion of them from university labs -- are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 "landmark" publications -- papers in top journals, from reputable labs -- for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature....

Part way through his project to reproduce promising studies, Begley met for breakfast at a cancer conference with the lead scientist of one of the problematic studies.

"We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure," said Begley. "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."

Such selective publication is just one reason the scientific literature is peppered with incorrect results.

For one thing, basic science studies are rarely "blinded" the way clinical trials are. That is, researchers know which cell line or mouse got a treatment or had cancer. That can be a problem when data are subject to interpretation, as a researcher who is intellectually invested in a theory is more likely to interpret ambiguous evidence in its favor.

The problem goes beyond cancer.

On Tuesday, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences heard testimony that the number of scientific papers that had to be retracted increased more than tenfold over the last decade; the number of journal articles published rose only 44 percent.

Ferric Fang of the University of Washington, speaking to the panel, said he blamed a hypercompetitive academic environment that fosters poor science and even fraud, as too many researchers compete for diminishing funding.

"The surest ticket to getting a grant or job is getting published in a high-profile journal," said Fang. "This is an unhealthy belief that can lead a scientist to engage in sensationalism and sometimes even dishonest behavior."
Of course, such a situation could never take place if the basic tenets of science were being followed. Notice the problem is not with a bad paper here, or a rogue researcher there. The problem is systemic. In the face of such poor system-wide practices the only rational response is to doubt the validity of the research produced via faulty methods. Public opinion polling on the subject is clear; only conservatives express such doubt. Therefor, only conservatives are thinking and acting rationally on this matter.

1 comment:

Zut Alors! said...


Conservatives are hostile to science for the same reason they don't like history: reality has a liberal bias.