A few things caught my eye.
Editorial by Matt Ridley, House of Lords
...Peer review is supposed to be the device that guides us away from unreliable heretics. A scientific result is only reliable when reputable scholars have given it their approval. Dr. Yan’s report has not been peer reviewed. But in recent years, peer review’s reputation has been tarnished by a series of scandals. The Surgisphere study was peer reviewed, as was the study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, hero of the anti-vaccine movement, claiming that the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) caused autism. Investigations show that peer review is often perfunctory rather than thorough; often exploited by chums to help each other; and frequently used by gatekeepers to exclude and extinguish legitimate minority scientific opinions in a field.
Herbert Ayres, an expert in operations research, summarized the problem well several decades ago: “As a referee of a paper that threatens to disrupt his life, [a professor] is in a conflict-of-interest position, pure and simple. Unless we’re convinced that he, we, and all our friends who referee have integrity in the upper fifth percentile of those who have so far qualified for sainthood, it is beyond naive to believe that censorship does not occur.” Rosalyn Yalow, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, was fond of displaying the letter she received in 1955 from the Journal of Clinical Investigation noting that the reviewers were “particularly emphatic in rejecting” her paper.
The health of science depends on tolerating, even encouraging, at least some disagreement. In practice, science is prevented from turning into religion not by asking scientists to challenge their own theories but by getting them to challenge each other, sometimes with gusto. Where science becomes political, as in climate change and COVID-19, this diversity of opinion is sometimes extinguished in the pursuit of a consensus to present to a politician or a press conference, and to deny the oxygen of publicity to cranks. This year has driven home as never before the message that there is no such thing as “the science”; there are different scientific views on how to suppress the virus.
A replication crisis has shocked psychology and medicine in recent years, with many scientific conclusions proving impossible to replicate because they were rushed into print with “publication bias” in favor of marginally and accidentally significant results. As the psychologist Stuart Ritchie of Kings College London argues in his new book, “Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science,” unreliable and even fraudulent papers are now known to lie behind some influential theories.
For example, “priming”—the phenomenon by which people can be induced to behave differently by suggestive words or stimuli—was until recently thought to be a firmly established fact, but studies consistently fail to replicate it. In the famous 1971 Stanford prison experiment, taught to generations of psychology students, role-playing volunteers supposedly chose to behave sadistically toward “prisoners.” Tapes have revealed that the “guards” were actually instructed to behave that way. A widely believed study, subject of a hugely popular TED talk, showing that “power posing” gives you a hormonal boost, cannot be replicated. And a much-publicized discovery that ocean acidification alters fish behavior turned out to be bunk.
Prof. Ritchie argues that the way scientists are funded, published and promoted is corrupting: “Peer review is far from the guarantee of reliability it is cracked up to be, while the system of publication that’s supposed to be a crucial strength of science has become its Achilles heel.” He says that we have “ended up with a scientific system that doesn’t just overlook our human foibles but amplifies them.”
WIND: the idea that politicians should “follow the science” sounds good, but only the gullible think that makes sense, because the science is rarely clear and it is only a fraction of the total risk assessment needed for quality decision making. A “consensus” ~= bullshit.
Moreover, most scientists are myopic as to the numerous issues surrounding any challenge, almost certainly biased, generally poorly educated in other fields (e.g., enonomics and philosophy and more). As a result, very few are unqualified to make decisions on governance and policy. Indeed, all evidence points to professional malfeasance when it comes to numerous issues around COVID—a refusal to entertain debate on very real and very deadly issues—those folks are not even qualified to practice in their own field, by rejecting its very basis—vigorous intellectual debate.
* I know firsthand just how poorly educated doctors are when it comes to understanding health and nutrition and even concussions, let alone improving baseline health, instead focusing on bandaids (medications mainly) for problems once they happen. Ethics in medicine is in a very sorry state.