Adverse influences over science

This new menu heading of ‘Bias in science’ brings together various commentaries that I have written, over the last 20 years, concerning the problems relating to bias, fraud and incompetence in science and science publishing (poor refereeing).

Such issues have become ever more important due to factors such as undue financial influence (from both publishers and drug companies), lack of proper regulation (FDA etc. and university academic departments), combined with commercialisation of university research and regulatory agencies.

These influences are strongly antithetical to a culture that nurtures balanced and objective science (witness the disputes over tobacco harms and anthropogenic climate change). There is some ‘conspiracy’ involved but also just general influences that added together are antithetical to good science: it is inevitable that when the system has been set up to be driven by competition and financial gain the result (the post-Reagan-Thatcher neoliberal legacy), human nature being what it is, has inevitably been that balance and objectivity (the essence of good science) have drained away leaving an emaciated remnant of science’s former self.

For instance, such factors largely explain why the USA spends the most per capita on health care, but has worse outcomes, on multiple measures, than most comparable ‘western’ countries. The 2020 Pandemic exemplifies this.

Let the UC Berkley expound on that for you:

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-community/health-care-policy/article/americas-not-so-great-health-care-system

Ten years ago, the Lancet editor, Richard Horton, stated in evidence to the UK parliamentary inquiry on drugs and the pharmaceutical industry

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhealth/42/4202.htm

‘The compromised integrity of medicine’s knowledge base should be a serious concern to politicians and public alike. It is surprising and disappointing that this danger does not seem a serious priority within medicine itself.’

‘Journals have devolved into information laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry’.

Going on about this is tedious and dispiriting: none-the-less, we must remember that it is vitally important to understand how profoundly such influences reduce the quality and objectivity of almost everything that is published in science, and much of what is done to patients in the name of clinical medicine.

These influences also mean that it is increasingly difficult for ordinary doctors and researchers, and even the libraries at the most wealthy and prestigious academic centres, to afford subscriptions to journals, or the cost of ‘reprints’ of papers. This puts even more power into the hands of those with the money, primarily the drug companies, and gives them even more control over what everybody else sees and ‘knows’. It has become more and more difficult for independent researchers like me to access science papers: I owe a special thank you to Russian ‘white hackers’ who facilitate access to papers (see http://sci-hub.tw/)

In a lifetime of reading scientific papers you will, from time to time, if you are lucky, encounter a paper that is honest, accurate, unbiased and useful, and stands up to the ultimate scientific test of replication by others who find the same result — when you do: 1) open a bottle of champagne, 2) let me know. Remember the mantra ‘not replicated not science’.

These assembled commentaries are intended to help people hone their critical analytical faculties and learn to take everything they read with an appropriately sized pinch of salt.

Happy hunting — and may your watchword ever be ‘Caveat lector’.

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