Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

To Err is Science

Until now, discovery was often considered the main goal of medical science. But nowadays discovery is almost too easy. Anyone with a little funding and a few biological specimens in a refrigerator can make thousands of postulated “discoveries.”

Indeed, the number of research questions that we can pose is increasing exponentially. Medical kits the size of a thumbnail can measure a million different biological factors on an individual with an infinitesimal amount of blood. A million research questions can be asked on the spot. But even with proper statistical testing, many tens of thousands of these biological factors may seem to be important due to mere chance. Only a handful of them really will be. The vast majority of these initial research claims would yield only spurious findings.

So the main issue nowadays is to validate “discoveries” by replicating them under different settings. Several different teams of researchers need to see them “work” again and again using common rules. Moreover, all the teams should agree not to select and report only the data that seem most impressive. With selective reporting, we would end up with a long list of all the false discoveries made across all research teams, with only a few true findings buried among this pile of non-replicated waste.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/yVZL2yp;
  1. op_campanella7_Aurelien MeunierGetty Images_billgatesrichardbransonthumbsup Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

    Abolish the Billionaires?

    Edoardo Campanella

    Even many of the wealthiest Americans would agree that the United States needs to overhaul its tax policies to restore a sense of social justice. But, notes Edoardo Campanella, Future of the World Fellow at IE University's Center for the Governance of Change, such reforms would not be enough to restart the engines of social mobility and promote greater equality of opportunity.

    7
  2. oneill69_Malte Mueller Getty Images_handholdingdollarsign Malte Mueller/Getty Images

    A Living Wage for Capitalism

    Jim O'Neill

    Higher nominal wages for low-paid workers can boost real earnings, increase consumer spending, and help make housing more affordable. And insofar as raising the minimum would increase companies’ wage bill, it would create a stronger incentive to replace labor with capital, which could lay the foundation for renewed productivity growth.

    0