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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:The Tip of an Iceberg of Wasted Time

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Pharma blogger Derek Lowe excerpts a paper from Nature, a preeminent science journal:

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Image by Lucas Vasquez, via Unsplash>, license.
n two decades, we will look back on the past 60 years -- particularly in biomedical science -- and marvel at how much time and money has been wasted on flawed research...

...many researchers persist in working in a way almost guaranteed not to deliver meaningful results. They ride with what I refer to as the four horsemen of the reproducibility apocalypse: publication bias, low statistical power, P-value hacking and HARKing (hypothesizing after results are known). My generation and the one before us have done little to rein these in.
The "publication bias ... against negative results," reminds me of a lost year of my life as a postdoc long ago. The PI ended up having his right hand man run the same experiments I was running as a pilot for obvious reasons. He also got negative results. This vindicated me, but netted me a grand total of ... zero publications ... for all that work.

Lowe also mentions something that will seem comical at first:
P-hacking is another scourge. And sadly, it's my impression that while some people realize that they're doing it, others just think that they're, y'know, doing science and that's how it's done. They think that they're looking for the valuable part of their results, when they're actually trying to turn an honest negative result into a deceptively positive one (at best) or just kicking through the trash looking for something shiny (at worst). I wasn't aware of the example that Bishop cites of a paper that helped blow the whistle on this in psychology. Its authors showed that what were considered perfectly ordinary approaches to one's data could be used to show that (among other things) listening to Beatles songs made the study participants younger. And I mean "statistically significantly younger". As they drily termed it, "undisclosed flexibility" in handing the data lets you prove pretty much anything you want. [links omitted]
This is funny ... for the few seconds before you consider the cost in human lives in at least the following forms: the time spent earning the money, often taken as taxes to pay for it; the time of the scientists involved; the time wasted in the attempt to apply such "results;" and -- when the government sees a regulatory interest -- time wasted by anyone coerced into following a law or regulation excused by such "results."

What Lowe reports is a travesty, but it isn't the half of it.

-- CAV

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