How science goes wrong

Unattributed, Oct 18, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Ever the purveyor of the skewed insight, the Economist reports that science has "gone wrong" because of the pressure to produce new results rather than verifying previous results. Utterly nothing in the way of statistical analysis is offered to substantiate that claim (here's the article - read it carefully and you'll see what I mean); the article focuses mostly on anecdotes, putative causes and ill effects. I'm no defender of the status quo in science, but from my reading the Economist focuses a lot on the cost and scale of the research, which to me reads as suggesting that if science were smaller it might be more successful. "The obligation to 'publish or perish' has come to rule over academic life. Competition for jobs is cut-throat." The Economist's shrill tone might be justified had scientific discovery ground to a halt, but we are in the midst of the greatest era of discovery in the history of humanity. Their complaints about the cost of all this progress run hollow, and posted as they are on their digital edition, hypocritical.

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