March for [Honest] Science.

During my time at the California EPA, I began to realize how the scientific process was and is undeniably subject to the influence of bias, and therefore corruption – even when those involved in the process have good intentions. As masses of people “marched for science” earlier this week, it seemed as though there was a disconnect between recognizing and honoring the use of the scientific process as a method and tool for discovery, as opposed to maintaining a belief in industry-funded scientific “consensus”, as fact.

Most people tend to believe there’s “science”, and then there’s “junk science” or “pseudoscience”.  How do you know the difference? Tell me, what influences whether or not something is “pseudoscience” versus science we should believe in? Is an idea “pseudoscience” simply because it goes against a widely accepted belief? Where does that belief come from? Why is it widely accepted, and who benefits from you believing into it?

What if the science you know and accept as fact, based on media-touted scientific consensus, is the true “pseudoscience”? 

In a 2009 meta-analysis of survey data on how many scientists fabricate and falsify research, it was found that almost 2% of scientists admitted to personally fabricating, falsifying, or modifying data or results at least once and almost 34% admitted other questionable research practices. In addition, 14% of scientists surveyed admitted that their colleagues falsified research and 72% admitted their colleagues participated in other questionable practices.

The authors state:

“…Misconduct was reported more frequently by medical/pharmacological researchers than others. Considering that these surveys ask sensitive questions and have other limitations, it appears likely that this is a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of scientific misconduct.”

This is rather alarming, considering the fact that findings of medical/pharmacological studies can impact the lives of many through affecting what our doctors might prescribe, as well as affecting policies set by various health regulatory agencies. But how can this be happening, if scientific research is peer-reviewed prior to acceptance and publication in prestigious medical journals?

“At the BMJ we did several studies where we inserted major errors into papers that we then sent to many reviewers. Nobody ever spotted all of the errors. Some reviewers did not spot any, and most reviewers spotted only about a quarter. Peer review sometimes picks up fraud by chance, but generally it is not a reliable method for detecting fraud because it works on trust.”

Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals.

So the system is flawed. Relying on an honors system of sorts is not going to catch fraud when a scientist chooses to falsify their data. Unfortunately, it appears that it’s not just flawed, the entire system is corrupt. Nobel Prize winner Sydney Brenner (for Physiology or Medicine in 2002) spoke of the peer review system in an interview in 2014:

“It’s corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists… it puts the judgment in the hands of people who really have no reason to exercise judgment at all. And that’s all been done in the aid of commerce, because they are now giant organizations making money out of it.”

Sadly, it appears that the “science” which most people accept as fact may be closer to advertising or tinder for political change, rather than reality. Science is fraught with conflicts of interest, as expressed by Dr. Richard Horton, editor in chief of the Lancet, regarding a symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research:

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, etc. are all making recommendations and decisions based on this corrupt science. Take it from Dr. Marcia Angell, physician and editor in chief of the New England Medical Journal.

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”

 


 

So, let’s look at it this way.

When you have studies on one side stating that vaccines do not cause autism, and studies on the other side stating that there is a link, which scientific conclusion do you tend to trust?

On one side, you have scientific surveys which have found no connection between vaccines and autism. You have the support of the pharmaceutical industry, which maintains a significant influence over medical education and research. This industry would suffer enormous financial losses if vaccines were widely believed to trigger autism. You also have government agencies and organizations with connections to the industry, making health recommendations based on industry science (which is fraught with flagrant conflicts of interest). And ultimately you have on your side, most medical professionals, who received an education influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, and who typically support the health agencies previously mentioned. As a result, you have a scientific “consensus” on your side.

On the other side, you have a generous amount independent scientific research which has identified a link between vaccines and autism. This research has even demonstrated a plausible mechanism for vaccine-induced autism. You have scientists and medical professionals who, though they have little to no incentive to openly speak on the subject, are ridiculed for attempting to challenge the consensus. You don’t have an industry giant to fund scientific research. And you certainly do not have the support of health organizations or government agencies such as the CDC, which profits from vaccines.

Which side might be more susceptible to using fraudulent science to support their conclusion? Which side sounds more like “junk science”?

I hope this is something you think about. In the end, always consider the source.

Yes, it matters. No, it’s not a conspiracy theory.

Ask the question: Who benefits from this research, and who funded it?

It is a fact that the pharmaceutical industry maintains major influence over our most prized institution – unbiased scientific discovery, education, and advancement, for the benefit of all. For the industry, science has become a business tool for increasing profit, rather than an unbiased exploratory process. We need REAL science. Unbiased science. Science that doesn’t seek to profit from the results.

Let’s march for that.

-TLH

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