Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Science' doesn't always stand up to scientific scrutiny

There are times when something that has been declared 'scientifically proven' turns out to not be scientifically proven.  I've written criticisms of the scientific establishment before, and hopefully the examples cited in this post will help illustrate why I have developed such a cynical attitude towards the scientific establishment.

Simply put, from the 19th century until the present day, the scientific establishment has had its share of errors, hoaxes, and frauds.  Establishment science isn't always about the truth.  Sometimes it's about what the establishment wants to be true.  I'll be citing some examples of scientific fraud in this post.

Archaeology and Paleontology Frauds

I'd like to start out with well known classic example of scientific fraud.  The Piltdown Man hoax began in the early 20th century when Charles Dawson obtained a human skull and an ape jawbone in the Piltdown gravel pit in England.  The two fossils did not fit together right, but it was claimed that they must belong together because they were found close together.  In 1915, more fossils were found, including a human skull and an ape jawbone that seemed to fit together.  The find at the Piltdown gravel pit was lauded as being the "missing link" that Darwinists so desperately wanted to find in order to lend more credence to their belief in natural selection and evolution.  For 40 years, it was believed the fossils found at the Piltdown gravel pit were genuine.  But eventually (and somewhat ironically), scientific scrutiny showed that the Piltdown man was not the missing link and was actually a hoax.  The skull turned out to be ancient, but the jawbone was modern.  More testing found that the teeth had been stained and filed to match the skull.   Read more about the Piltdown Man hoax here and here.  Here is an example from this year about a "missing link" fossil that turned out to not be human.

So is trying to prove a belief in Darwinism more important than just telling the truth?  Historically, the belief in Darwinism developed before there was enough 'science' to 'prove' it.  Ironically, the Darwinist crowd accuse creationist scientists of trying to fit 'science' with religious beliefs, yet the Darwinists have done precisely the same thing -- they just started adapting 'science' to fit their beliefs much sooner, giving it the appearance of being firmly 'established' to later generations.

And don't think the Piltdown man hoax is the lone example of scientific misconduct.  A more recent example regarding science relating to prehistoric fraud involves a German anthropology professor named Reiner Protsch Van Zeiten.  Protsch's work was cited as evidence of Neanderthal man living in Europe.   A Frankfurt University panel ruled that he lied about the age of skulls he dated to be tens of thousands of years old -- turns out they were much younger.  One skull that Protsch dated to being 27,400 years old turned out out to be less than 300 years old.  Protsch had forged and manipulated facts for 30 years.  Read more about that here.

Another recent example of archaeological fraud involves Shinichi Fujimura.  Fujimura made of career of researching the prehistory of Japan, but it turned out he was faking many of his finds.  Pictures were published of him digging holes and burying objects he would later 'discover' and announce as major finds.  He eventually admitted to planting much of the evidence.  Read more about it here.

Big Pharma

Big Pharma annoys me largely due to them constantly pushing pills of some sort on everyone for one reason or another, which is evident by their unceasing barrage of television commercials that are typically twice as long as the average commercial and twice as annoying too.  Big Pharma has also had its share of fraud.  An editorial on NaturalNews.com cites an example of a prominent medical researcher named Scott Reuben who faked an entire study and got the 'results' published in a medical journal. The 'studies' claimed to show benefits from painkillers like Vioxx and Celebrex.  You can also read about this case on the Wall Street Journal here.

The author of that Natural News editorial has also claimed before that vitamin D is better than the swine flu vaccine (which begs the question of why the government would spend so much on swine flu vaccine when they could have saved money by just giving everyone a bottle of vitamin D).  I mention that now because just the other day I came across an article on the Times Online that makes a similar claim regarding Vitamin D and the flu.

Another example concerning medical research fraud comes from a South Korean researcher who faked stem cell research results.  Read more about that here.

Even when genuine research is conducted, sometimes the results can be ambiguous.  An Newsweek article from this year questions whether common anti-depressant medications are really any more effective that placebos (Note: I do not recommend clicking that particular link if you are currently being treated for chronic depression with anti-depressant medications!).

Climategate and IPCC

One of the biggest scientific frauds exposed in recent history is the Climategate scandal.  The Climategate scandal exposed the dubious research conducted by the the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia regarding anthropogenic global warming.  The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also been implicated in pushing the dubious anthropogenic global warming agenda.  But in addition to citing questionable data concerning global warming, the IPCC has also cited questionable data regarding hurricanes.  Read more about that here.  It also appears that the IPCC's predictions about the devestating effect 'climate change' could have on the Amazon rainforest may be erroneous too.  Read more about that here.


More Frauds

In 2004, the federal Office of Research Integrity received nearly 300 complaints, and, out of nearly two dozen cases they were able to close that year, eight individuals were found guilty of scientific misconduct.  Here is an article that cites numerous examples of fabricated research.  Here is another version of that article.


My Thoughts and Conclusions

One thing I want to emphasize here is that most of the examples I have cited were not innocent errors but intentional fabrications.  Another thing I want to emphasize is these examples involve researchers from prestigious universities.  And another thing I want to emphasize is scientific misconduct is not just something that only occurred many years ago or just recently started but has occurred throughout the history of modern science.

So why would these credentialed scientists risk their reputations by publishing fabricated data?  I think it boils down to two main reasons: money and belief.  Yes, belief.  The scientific community generally doesn't like to be accused of believing something unless the data supports it, but sometimes the belief exists before there is data to support it.  If someone believes something strong enough and they set out to find evidence for that belief, there's a good chance they'll find evidence they feel supports that belief if they try hard enough (keep in mind that data doesn't speak for itself; it is interpreted).  Sometimes, in order to sell an certain idea, you have to find just enough evidence to make the idea sound convincing.  Even Isaac Newton, one of history's most famous scientists, adjusted his calculations on the precession of equinoxes, the orbit of the moon, and the velocity of sound in order to make them more closely correlate with his own theories.  Sometimes science works in reverse -- instead of forming a theory based on observations, a theory is formed and then data to support it is sought.

The other factor here is money.  Some scientists are more concerned with making a lot of money than doing legitimate research.  So they go where the funding is, and in some cases they just so happen to find the kind 'results' the financiers want them to find.

I do feel that scientific fraudsters only account for a small percentage of scientists.  But you still have to wonder how many other cases of scientific fraud there may be out there that have not been exposed.  In some cases I cited above, the fraud was believed for decades before it was exposed.  And even though the fraudsters may only account for a small percentage of scientists, bear in mind that genuine, well-intentioned scientists will cite data published by fraudsters because they assume that their colleagues are publishing legitimate research.  As a result, many people unknowingly end up repeating a lie.

So as you can see, just because something has been said to be 'scientifically proven', doesn't necessarily mean it has been scientifically proven.  I grow weary of seeing the 'scientificfically proven' label being stamped on so many things so frequently, as if it were some sort of infallible seal of approval that cannot be questioned.  I get tired of hearing people state emphatically and with authority that 'science says this' and 'science says that', as if science was some all-knowing deity that has never been wrong about anything.  Sure, science has been known to answer many questions and has made many genuine advancements and improvements, but 'science' has also been known to say a whole lot of bunk.

Nevertheless, I still hold the study of science in high regard, particularly engineering sciences (which I feel is in a category of its own).  If an aeronautical engineer says he can build a faster plane and then does so, then there isn't really anything to interpret.  If the plane he designs is faster, then that alone is proof that his design is faster.  If an electronics engineer says he can build a faster microprocessor and then does so, then the speed of the microprocessor proves his claims were accurate.  And despite the fact that some of the examples I cited above involve medical science, I think it's clear that genuine advancements in medical science overshadow the medical frauds.

My criticisms of the scientific establishment are more or less directed at some of the historical and natural sciences (such as establishment paleontology and anthropology).  A lot of these sciences are rooted in Darwinism and materialism, which has resulted in cherry picked data that is interpreted from a certain point of view and then repeated over and over.  Today, there may very well be many genuine scientists who conduct well-intentioned research regarding prehistory, but they are still interpreting the evidence the way they have been taught to interpret it.  Just as the professors who taught them were taught by their professors.  When something gets repeated often enough and long enough, it starts to become 'established' in the minds of many people.

Although I may not be a fan of Charles Darwin's work, don't let it be said that he never said anything of value, for it was Darwin who said, "False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long."  I like that quote not only because I feel it is true but also for its irony.

I am not trying to discredit scientific method or science in general, nor am I telling people not to trust science at all.  My point here is science isn't always right and has had its fair share of charlatans.  Just as some spiritualists and religious leaders are wolves in sheep's clothing, some credentialed scientists are also wolves in sheep's clothing.  I think it's good for people to research topics of interest themselves and carefully consider different interpretations and consider what point of view an interpretation stems from, that way they can draw their own conclusions instead of just being told what to think.

5 comments:

  1. I read a great book once called Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. Good stuff. Also came across this recently http://cosmologystatement.org/ - this is reassuring in a way, that many scientists are speaking out against the standard model - the dogmatic adherence to this (unproven) standard in physics has kept many independent thinkers from being able to communicate their ideas, as the mainstream scientific community has been using difficult-to-obtain financial resources, not to mention downright unprofessional name-calling, to keep new ideas from getting out there. It's truly a shame - but here's hoping it will change one day. Thanks, great article.
    -Angela
    surfingthetao.com

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  2. Interesting link, Angela. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Well, how about that! Someone has finally had the courage to come out and say what we've all been thinking for years, but have been too cowed to say ourselves: that much of what passes for "science" is actually "belief", just dressed up in shinier clothes!

    "Belief" is also known as "faith", but scientists are provoked enough as it is. I really shouldn't be making it harder on their already-bruised egos by pointing out the inescapable conclusion that many of their most dearly-held, but completely unprovable, assertions are by any objective standard no different than the "beliefs" of those persons (whom the scientists used to ignore but now openly mock and denigrate) who believe that the universe and life itself was not the result of a random event. but rather the intentional, purposeful act of an all-powerful intelligence, otherwise known as God! Yeah, I really shouldn't say that.

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  4. You know, a lot of people probably don't know it, but the Big Bang Theory was formulated by a physics professor named George Lemaitre, who was also a Catholic priest.

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  5. Oh, and they do have some faith too. Sometimes, in regards to some mystery, you'll hear someone say something to effect of, "Some day, science will be able to explain this mystery." Sounds like faith to me...faith in something that will occur "some day." Such a statement can also be a disguised way for materialists to suggest that some day they will be able to develop a materialistic interpretation of the mystery that fits into their materialistic worldview.

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