Originally published October 9 2014
Science is subject to error, misinterpretation and, yes, fraud
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The scientific method is defined generally as a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, to gather new knowledge or for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. In order to be termed "scientific," a method of inquiry has to be based upon empirical or measurable data and evidence that is subject to specific principles of reasoning.
But despite these criteria, it is becoming increasingly evident that much of what is touted as legitimate "science" today is the byproduct of political or ideological manipulation. Instead of developing new knowledge or building upon existing knowledge, much research is conducted with a bias toward preconceived "conclusions" and "findings," either because the researcher has an agenda or because the entity paying for the research does.
In a recent piece, The Washington Post ran down some of popular examples of error, misinterpretation and outright fraud:
Faster-than-light neutrinos: In September 2011, researchers conducting an experiment called "OPERA" reported that neutrinos pumped from the CERN physics facility in Geneva, Switzerland, had arrived at another lab in Italy about 60 nanoseconds faster than light could have made covering the same distance. However, within a few months it was clear that a loose cable had made the measures inaccurate.
Arsenic-based life. Scientists who were trying to find a "shadow biosphere" reported in 2010 that they had found some bacteria in Mono Lake, California, that at first appeared to have exchanged phosphorus for arsenic in their DNA. Critics, however, attacked the research, which was funded by taxpayers via NASA. The journal Science, which published the initial findings, later published additional studies showing that the bacteria could not survive absent phosphorus.
Gravitational waves that came from cosmic inflation. This is still an ongoing controversy, the Post reported: "Scientists at the South Pole saw signals of polarization in ancient radiation that were consistent with predictions that an early, violent, inflationary spasm of the big bang would leave behind such fingerprints. But a similar effect can be produced by foreground dust." More data is needed, scientists say.
Goldilocks planets. Astronomers reported in 2010 that they found a "Goldilocks" planet, which was not much bigger than Earth, orbiting the star Gliese 581 in its habitable zone, where it is neither too hot nor too cold for water to be liquid at the surface. But the planet, Gliese 581G, also may not even be real. A recent report in Science said this planet and another believed to be orbiting the star aren't really there. The star apparently has the ability to create the illusion of planets around it.
STAP stem cells. The journal Nature recently retracted a pair of scientific papers reporting claims that ordinary mouse cells could be exposed to a lightly acidic environment which would turn them into stem cells. The editors of the magazine said the studies contained extensive errors and plagiarism and were unable to be replicated by other researchers. It still isn't clear, the Post reported, whether the phenomenon of "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency" really exists.
The magazine's editors, in retracting the papers, cited a host of recent incidents which call into question the reliability of scientific studies:
Underlying these issues, often, is sloppiness, whether in the handling of data, in their analysis, or in the inadequate keeping of laboratory notes. As a result, the conclusions of such papers can seem misleadingly robust. Another contributory factor lies in selection bias behind the data presented, whether implicit because the experiment was not randomized or blinded, or explicit in the deliberate selection of data that, usually with honest good intentions, are judged to be representative.
Climate change data has also been subject to unrelenting manipulation, and other research involving substances like fluoride, vaccines and GMO foods has also been co-opted by large corporations who pre-ordain results with their massive donations and funding.
Worse, phony science has often been used to justify public policies that are harmful to individual liberties and the nation's fiscal health, as noted by the Center for Skeptical Inquiry:
Sometimes the difference between real science and pseudoscience forms such a narrow border that it is hard to tell which side you are looking at. There are times when pseudoscience masquerades as legitimate science, endlessly pursued through poor methods and an overabundance of wishful thinking. How many years of wasted research does it take before the scientific community finally makes up its collective mind that the problem being studied is a non-problem, and that the theorizers in that field are pursuing pseudoscience, pure and simple?
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