Science is integral to the advancement of society at every level. Scientific research produces new drugs and therapies to prevent and treat diseases and debunks flawed claims on the effectiveness of some pharmaceuticals. It leads to the development of chemicals and compounds that make our lives safer and more productive and identifies hazards that produce restrictions and bans on products that pose a significant threat to humans.
Our latest report, Spotlight on Science: When Scientific Research Got It Right, showcases a few of these examples. The report reviews a number of historical examples of scientific myth-busting that led to sound public policy decisions and enormous contributions to the health and safety of people around the world.
Yet, it is also important to remember that scientists are human—they bring the same characteristics to their work as the rest of us, including bias, ego, and wishful thinking. Because scientists aren’t perfect, neither are the results of every experiment. Transparency, peer review, and replication efforts often reveal flaws in scientific research forcing the retraction of high-profile results published each year.
Given the laser-focus on covid-19 in 2020, many of the retractions focused on virus-related research. While some can be attributed to developing knowledge about the virus throughout the year, others were based on unsound scientific methods or inaccurate data brought to the table by the scientists themselves. Unfortunately, the need to publish and produce results quickly, combined with the built-in desire of some scientists to design studies that attempt to prove—rather than test—their hypothesis, led to results that were less than scientifically sound.
In her November 2020 analysis “Six questions physicists ask when evaluating scientific claims,” Sarah Charley states that “the goal of science is to search for truth through impartial analysis.” When that impartiality is clouded, for whatever reason, the search for truth is re-routed, resulting in agenda-driven results that can produce skewed outcomes. Those outcomes, in turn, can trigger unjustified panics about the safety of a particular drug or chemical compound or unsubstantiated euphoria about possible cures or treatments of diseases. Equally important, unless corrected and retracted quickly, these flawed research results can work their way into the public’s conscience and dramatically impact regulatory and judicial decisions governing the use of drugs and chemical compounds.
Flawed science leads to poor public policy decisions that have an enormous and long-lasting impact on individuals, businesses, litigation, and public health. The Center for Truth in Science is committed to seeking integrity in the pursuit of science, especially on issues at the intersection of science, justice, and the economy. On one side of this pursuit is agenda-driven science, while the other is the self-correcting nature of science itself.