23 September 2007

The Fallibility of Research Findings--Another Reminder

Following closely on publication of this caution, this NYTimes Magazine piece provides further reasons for careful scrutiny of research findings.

Most people do not have the training in epidemiology and statistics required to judge a research paper's findings. That seems particularly true of many post-modernist minded journalist and academicians. The public should beware of the uncritical acceptance of research findings in the media and on campuses. Recent epidemiological overreach when looking at civilian casualties in Iraq highlights the ludicrous extent to which instruments of data analyses can be prostituted to the service of political journalism.

But the rare political whoring of epidemiology is just the tip of the iceberg. Given the inherent ambiguity of most research data, it is necessary to introduce some disciplined parsimony in transforming data to actionable information. Most scientists (outside of climate modeling) are able to admit the limitations of their findings and methods. Sadly, most "science" journalists too often lack the subtlety and nuance that reporting on science requires. They too easily succumb to the temptation for the "breakthrough", the "blockbuster headline", the sensational patina over what is likely to be "ho-hum" data in reality.

This is not nearly so much a problem for scientists as it is for the public. But if you read the article, you will see that it is also a problem for science.


Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts