Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Here's a sign of the
times: The man who once published a paper titled, "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False", and
others have formed a new institute to police bad science. In addition to bogus
results, the institute (METRICS, for "Meta-Research Innovation Centre at
Stanford") will also consider the problem of wasted effort:
... A recent series of articles in the Lancet noted that, in 2010, about $200 billion (an astonishing 85% of the world's spending on medical research) was squandered on studies that were flawed in their design, redundant, never published or poorly reported. METRICS will support efforts to tackle this extraordinary inefficiency, and will itself update research about the extent to which randomised-controlled trials acknowledge the existence of previous investigations of the same subject. If the situation has not improved, METRICS and its collaborators will try to design new publishing practices that discourage bad behaviour among scientists. [bold added]While this effort is laudable, I think it will fail, because I think many of these problems are ultimately due to government funding of science. Indeed, it reminds me a little of recent efforts to address the problem of the government training too many new scientists in certain fields -- such as by adding a whole new training program to their terminal degrees.
Set aside, for the sake of argument, the whole question of whether the government should be taking money forcibly from some citizens for any reason. What we are seeing in science, as with many other areas of the economy, is a vast amount of money being poured in to an industry by a political class whose primary motivation isn't the discovery of truth (rather than flowing there due to market forces) and creating a whole slew of artificial, perverse incentives. When these perverse incentives guide individuals, it should come as no surprise that it is common to see examples of money being wasted, be it in the form of sloppy studies, redundant work, or over-training. It may be possible to mask or slightly alleviate the symptoms for a time, but the disease goes merrily on.