Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Most scientific papers are probably wrong

In a Monty Python skit it was once hysterically asserted that most right-thinking people are wrong. Turns out they were right ... at least when it comes to scientists.

Most scientific papers are probably wrong ... quote!

Most published scientific research papers are wrong, according to a new analysis. Assuming that the new paper is itself correct, problems with experimental and statistical methods mean that there is less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true.

John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, says that small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false. But even large, well-designed studies are not always right, meaning that scientists and the public have to be wary of reported findings.

... and ...

But Solomon Snyder, senior editor at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, US, says most working scientists understand the limitations of published research.

"When I read the literature, I'm not reading it to find proof like a textbook. I'm reading to get ideas. So even if something is wrong with the paper, if they have the kernel of a novel idea, that's something to think about," he says.

And this is the same bunch trying to talk me out of believing in God? Turns out a flip of the coin is about as accurate. No thanks.