16 September 2007

Learn to Reserve Judgment Until the Facts are All In

A lot of people trust research findings implicitly. Experienced researchers and data analysts do not.
There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.
Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

Of course, since this finding is based upon a simulation--and we know from climate science how simulations and computer models are subject to biasing by bad data--we should be suspicious of this finding as well. And rightly so. There is no such thing as perfect data. Some algorithms used in models and simulations are sufficiently recursive so as to create absurd results that diverge wildly with each run.

So, if you are tempted to place too much faith in an area of science that is particularly subject to biasing and simulation error--such as climate science--it might be wise to reserve judgment until the picture can be clarified by better research.

Hat tip Futurepundit.


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

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