Saving Science – The New Atlantis

Daniel Sarewitz writes in Saving Science:

Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, puts it like this:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.

C. Glenn Begley and John Ioannidis — researchers who have been courageous and visionary in exposing systemic weakness in biomedical science — concluded in a January 2015 article that “it is impossible to endorse an approach that suggests that we proceed with an ongoing research investment that is producing results the majority of which cannot be substantiated and will not stand the test of time.” Similarly, an economic analysis published in June 2015 estimates that $28 billion per year is wasted on biomedical research that is unreproducible.

Science isn’t self-correcting; it’s self-destructing.

Part of the problem surely has to do with the pathologies of the science system itself. Academic science, especially, has become an onanistic enterprise worthy of Swift or Kafka. As a university scientist you are expected to produce a continual stream of startling and newsworthy findings.

And he concludes:

Advancing according to its own logic, much of science has lost sight of the better world it is supposed to help create. Shielded from accountability to anything outside of itself, the “free play of free intellects” begins to seem like little more than a cover for indifference and irresponsibility. The tragic irony here is that the stunted imagination of mainstream science is a consequence of the very autonomy that scientists insist is the key to their success. Only through direct engagement with the real world can science free itself to rediscover the path toward truth.

Source: Saving Science – The New Atlantis

True. My prediction is that science will persist in some form just like other institutions of the industrial age.  Something radically different will emerge – not in its place, but orthogonal to it. Even now  $50-100K is almost sufficient to start a garage-based bio-medical lab. It will be even easier in the future. It will never be as easy it is to start a blog, but the new science won’t resemble anything like Swiftian and Kafkian world of the industrial age science.