Don’t believe everything you read about genes and disease in prestigious journals like Science and Nature,

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Published on: November 10, 2009

A recent article, describes & highlights some of the pressures scientists & researchers face in a professional setting, which potentially leads to research & publication of falsehoods. Some of the reasons why many research results are outright wrong, are:

* Scientists behaving badly:
“… Outright scientific fraud is rare, but less deviant behavior may be much more common. For example, researchers may run multiple statistical tests on their data: they keep analysing the results in slightly different ways (known as “data mining”) until they get a P-value less than 0.05. This is tempting because it is much easier to get one’s research published if the findings are “statistically significant” (i.e. the P-value is less than 0.05) – a phenomenon known as “publication bias”.

* Pressure to perform:
“…

The social environment in which research occurs places scientists under pressure to perform. These institutional pressures have the well-intentioned aim of encouraging high productivity and performance, measured by the amount and quality of publications, and success in attracting research funding from government and charitable agencies.

However, there is an inherent tension between the scientific process, where success is often unpredictable, and the means by which research productivity is frequently assessed. The criteria currently used to assess a scientist’s career and make decisions about future funding, salary and tenure may be an important factor encouraging departure from the ideals of scientific integrity.

But institutional pressures of this sort are unlikely to be solely responsible…

…”
More about this article here: [The Link]
A related article from PLoS Medicine: [Why Most Published Research Findings are False]

Promises, Predictions, Visions … is it leading to Promissary Culture?

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Published on: November 6, 2009

As researchers (or otherwise) we all make predictions about what happens next. Sometimes we keep those to ourselves, sometimes we share with our friends and colleagues and sometimes we share it with the world through media.

Of course, share with your friends and colleagues is one thing, but sharing with a much bigger audience is another matter altogether… then you have to think about credibility at all levels (personal, scientific, group, institutional…etc), couple that to decision/policy making and politics then its a whole other ball game.
Recently came across an article in the-scientist, which talks about these issues. Couple of excerpts from the article.
Of course, scientists have a strong incentive to make bold predictions—namely, to obtain funding, influence, and high-profile publications. But while few will be disappointed when worst-case forecasts fail to materialize, unfulfilled predictions—of which we’re seeing more and more—can be a blow for patients, policy makers, and for the reputation of science itself.”
“..“soundbite” media culture that demands uncomplicated, definitive, and sensational statements plays a significant role. “It’s [the media] who put the most pressure on scientists to make predictions,” he says. And in a radio or TV interview that allows perhaps only 10 or 20 seconds for an answer, “it’s very easy then to inadvertently mislead.”

But it might also pay scientists—financially and politically—to go along with such demands, and to indulge in what Joan Haran, Cesagen Research Fellow at Cardiff University, UK, diplomatically calls “discursive overbidding,” whereby they talk up the potential value of work for which they seek the support of funds, changes in legislation or public approval.”

..

The article also includes useful tips on how to predict responsibly

1. Avoid simple timelines
2. Learn from history
3. State the caveats
4. Remember what you don’t know
More of the article here: [The Link]

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