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You can’t always trust a scientist

Top Tories trying out their power poses

“Science is broken,” says Tom Chivers in Semafor. One of the key tests for all scientific research is whether the same findings can be reproduced in a later study – and, increasingly, they can’t. Astonishingly, between half and two-thirds of attempts to replicate old results fail. This so-called “replication crisis” is particularly acute in psychology, where many “foundational texts are now known to be false”. To take one prominent example: scientists have been unable to reaffirm the finding that “power posing” makes you feel more confident – a claim trumpeted in a TED talk that has been viewed 70 million times.

The main problem is that academics are judged on how many papers they can get published, and the big medical journals only tend to print “exciting” results. So scientists find ways to make their findings more interesting. One method is just to make things up: since 2003, “more than 8,000 biomedical research papers have been retracted for suspected fraud”. Another is to “torture” your data so that it’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. Science remains the best route to “reliable knowledge”. But it’s worth remembering that it’s also a “human endeavour and flawed in human ways”. Scientists want to be promoted and feed their kids, same as the rest of us. And “they’ll cut corners and fudge results to do so”.