Science in Crisis

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Science in Crisis

The modern world depends on science for nearly everything.  Public policy, technology, and popular culture all assume that science is the final arbiter of truth and efficacy.  And science depends crucially on the trustworthiness of the “scientific method” as executed by scientists.

Ironically, seeing the miracles of technology has caused us to assume that the scientific enterprise is a well-oiled machine, flawlessly discovering truth and delivering benefits to society.  Therefore, most consumers, investors, and decision-makers in business and government are unaware that a crisis currently threatens science as we have known it. 

Science involves the systematic exploration of reality.  Scientists start with an understanding of what’s already known as embodied in the cumulative scientific literature.  They extend human knowledge by formulating hypotheses that might be true.  They design and execute experiments that attempt to falsify the hypotheses and any hypothesis not falsified is assumed to be true.  The finding from the experiments are then added to the scientific literature for others to use.  Crucial to that whole process is the assumption that when another scientist reproduces an experiment, those results will confirm the published research. 

Over the past three hundred years, this model has transformed every aspect of our lives.  We look for “cause and effect” in everything.  We know that almost everything obeys mathematically precise laws.  And we’re amazed when so-called “black swan events” occur, because they lie outside the quantifiable norms we’ve come to expect.

However, scientists are human beings with ambitions, values, political agendas, personal relationships, and finite capabilities.  They make honest mistakes, as well as not so honest mistakes.  The result is that some research is not reproducible and ultimately leads to a dead end.

As the progress of science and technology in the 21st century has accelerated to a previously unimaginable pace, the fundamental mechanisms of science are being tested as never before by the so-called: reproducibility crisis.

A survey of 1,576 scientific researchers conducted by Nature, the world’s premier scientific journal, found that more that 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments.  And amazingly, more than 50% of them have failed to reproduce some of their own experiments...

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