Friday, September 14, 2007

Can You Believe What Scientists Publish?

Can You Believe What Scientists Publish?

The Wall styreet Journal - Health Blog

Posted by Jacob Goldstein

Most published research is wrong, says epidemiologist John Ioannidis (pictured), author of the cult-classic paper Why Most Research Findings Are False.

The gist of his idea is that scientists are eager to find relationships between all sorts of variables — certain genes and the risk of a given disease, for example. And scientific journals are eager to publish research that reports these relationships.

But, while there are some true relationships in the world, there are also many unrelated variables that may falsely appear to be connected, WSJ’s Science Journal reports. For example, just because a person has a certain gene and gets a particular disease, doesn’t mean that the gene caused the disease.

“He has done systematic looks at the published literature and empirically shown us what we know deep inside our hearts,” Muin Khoury, director of the National Office of Public Health Genomics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told WSJ. “We need to pay more attention to the replication of published scientific results.”

Earlier this year, the Health Blog spoke with Ioannidis, who struck us then as the Pink Floyd of science. Like the moody rockers’ album “Dark Side of the Moon,” Ioannidis’s paper has proved an unexpected and surprisingly durable hit, setting records for downloads.

He explained why replication, not discovery is the real heart of truth:

You have millions of potential discoveries, but what is really true out of that? That’s the big question. The only way to get credibility is to go for repeated replication, again and again, with many different teams. Replication is more important than discovery.

Should scientists and scientific publishers be more vigilant about the findings they produce and publish? Go to Robert Lee Hotz’s forum to discuss.

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