Skepticism of science, necessary & needless

Just a quick addendum to my previous post where I advised caution about skepticism of science.  A biomedical scientist recently told me that the journal Virology had a statistician audit all their papers within a 1 year interval with statistics to see if they were using them correctly. Turned out that 2/3 of the papers which had statistics made basic elementary errors!  The moral here is to be very cautious of, and therefore skeptical of, new science, especially sexy new science.  Junk statistics are especially an issue with medical science because of the incentive structure of these research. But when it comes to 100 year old science, skepticism is far less warranted. If you are hearing about it now, chances are that it has made it through the gauntlet of generations of skepticism.  Almost all scientific hypotheses initially conjectured are wrong, but those which last centuries and are still in circulation are almost certainly of great heuristic utility and predictive power.  It is important to respect and conserve knowledge which has been accumulated through experience and has proved useful.

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  1. Pingback: Take research papers with a grain of salt « David Kirkpatrick

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