This week’s Science Sunday is taking a bit of a different twist. Stanford University is opening a Meta-Research Innovation Center- a center for studying “bad science.” It’s highlighted in this March 1st article from PopSci. The goal of the center will be to evaluate scientific studies that have not been able to be successfully replicated, or have reported negative results, or have weak statistical correlations, in order to hopefully call attention to these “bad” studies so that physicians will no longer use them as a basis for treating patients.
A key, and highly touted, component of scientific publication is the peer review process. This means that before any scientific paper can be published, it gets set out to a set of other scientists in the field who read the paper and decide whether it makes a strong enough case, and whether the data supports the conclusions being drawn. Often, this results in revisions that the authors must make before the paper will get accepted for publication in a journal. Everyone, especially members of the scientific community, would like to think that this system is foolproof, or at the very least, that the system in place for redactions catches any papers that may fall through the early cracks. While replicating a published study is the ultimate form of validation, and while it may take years or decades for a groundbreaking study to become consensus, there is a certain amount of trust (combined with a dose of skepticism) that scientists have in published data.
Though I have seen a few “questionable” papers thus far, I did not realize that the problem was so widespread that an entire center needed to be dedicated to it. I do think that it would be great if the output from this center were able to change the way that patients are treated for the better. However, I hope that it does not cast a negative light onto the scientific community. There is already a lot of misinformation and negativity out there about how the science world currently functions, and a lot of demands from the public about how they would like it to change. Drawing attention so publicly to cracks within the science infrastructure may give more ammunition to those in the public who already see faults in science.