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Descripción de editorial
So much relies on science. But what if science itself can’t be relied on?
Medicine, education, psychology, health, parenting – wherever it really matters, we look to science for guidance. Science Fictions reveals the disturbing flaws that undermine our understanding of all of these fields and more.
While the scientific method will always be our best and only way of knowing about the world, in reality the current system of funding and publishing science not only fails to safeguard against scientists’ inescapable biases and foibles, it actively encourages them. Many widely accepted and highly influential theories and claims – about ‘priming’ and ‘growth mindset’, sleep and nutrition, genes and the microbiome, as well as a host of drugs, allergies and therapies – turn out to be based on unreliable, exaggerated and even fraudulent papers. We can trace their influence in everything from austerity economics to the anti-vaccination movement, and occasionally count the cost of them in human lives.
Stuart Ritchie has been at the vanguard of a new reform movement within science aimed at exposing and fixing these problems. In this vital investigation, he gathers together the evidence of their full and shocking extent and proposes a host of remedies to save and protect this most valuable of human endeavours from itself.
In this bracing indictment, Ritchie (Intelligence: All That Matters), a lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College, charges that in recent decades the scientific establishment has become host to a "dizzying array of incompetence, delusion, lies and self-deception." He names outright "fraudsters" such as condensed matter physicist Jan Hendrik Sch n, who falsified data supporting his 2001 claim to have invented a carbon-based transistor to replace the silicone microchip, and shows how scientists can more subtly massage data by "p-hacking," or nudging experiment results to show significant effect. Ritchie sees software such as Photoshop as having significantly contributed to the rise of deceptions, as when, in 2004, South Korean biologist Woo-Suk Hwang manipulated photos of cells to back up his claim of having cloned a human embryo. Regarding popular scientific literature, he takes aim at overhype, using as an example Matthew Walker's 2017 bestseller Why We Sleep, for using what he considers to be thin evidence to insist sleeping eight hours a night is not only healthy but vital. On academe, Ritchie suggests the pressure to publish has also encouraged scientists to exaggerate results. Thorough and detailed, this is a sobering and convincing treatise for anyone invested in the intellectual credibility of science.