After examining the many issues related to the fraudulence, criminality and greed of researchers that can arise in academia and science that should make us pause before putting too much faith in the results of published studies, it is now time to consider what biases that researchers may be totally unaware of when designing, conducting and reporting on their studies.
The first article linked to describes two very famous cases in which confirmation bias was discovered in research, leading to the absurd and fake ‘findings’ being dismissed by the scientific community, as they should have been.
As mentioned before, confirmation bias is where you only believe in studies and ‘evidence’ that confirms your current views about things, rather than seeking to challenge or question your own beliefs and biases, and regardless of whether these confirming studies are true or accurate.
The most astounding fact from the story about homeopathy is that, even though the totally fabricated and disproven findings of homeopathy were dismissed by most scientists, a group of quacks continued to use it to ‘treat’ people, and even do so today! Here we can see both confirmation bias and the placebo effect in all their glory.
However, the second page of the article is even more revealing because it further illustrates the issues that the author had himself in conducting research and trying to get it accepted by his peers in the scientific community.
The author shows that, even though he and his colleagues were initially very confident that they had successfully addressed all potential issues with their research, to the point where they presented it at a conference, it was still found to be erroneous, and had to be changed again.
The author presents this as classic example of how science in particular, and research in general, are collaborative efforts that benefit from being challenged, he fails to recognise that this is the very reason so many people doubt what they are told by scientists and researchers.
How can we (or even researchers) know when their studies have been subjected to adequate amounts of scrutiny and will no longer contain any flaws? In reality, in many cases, the answer is going to be that no-one knows, and that is why many theories and studies are irreproducible, or have to be modified or even totally refuted over time.
Unfortunately, most people are not willing to be constantly on their guard, sceptical and doubting since most people crave certainty and truth that can underpin their beliefs.
Even Albert Einstein, who claimed to exercise a healthy dose of scepticism and who is revered as a paragon of scientific truth and knowledge of the modern era, suffered from his own blinding and positive bias towards the Soviet Union, as can be seen in the second article listed below.
It’s worth considering the closing point of this article in relation to all that we have covered in the preceding pieces responding to Stephen Hawking’s lament about scepticism towards science:
Simply calling ourselves skeptics is no guarantee that we will objectively apply the methods of skepticism. Self-awareness that we have limitations in expertise combined with built-in biases that hinder our consistent application of skepticism may help to minimize our own selective skepticism. However, if we ignore our own selective skepticism and inconsistently apply the method of skepticism, we run the risk, like Einstein, of deluding ourselves in certain areas like the “true believer” that every skeptic despises.
Confirmation bias in science: how to avoid itThe Myth of Consistent Skepticism: The Cautionary Case of Albert Einstein