The “Integrity” of Medical Science

What industry is a lot shadier than it seems?

Medical research.

The only way people can keep their jobs at a lot of the institutions with better facilities is to create a steady stream of high-impact publications. Now, research doesn’t work that way, you get the supported results whenever it happens, but that’s not how hiring promotion or tenure committees see it.

This means that, in order to ensure you get to know these desirable publications in the right period, you have to do all sorts of corner-cutting. You publish before the results are well supported, you publish results that are unrepeatable, you write papers in the smallest possible units of the work, so people need to wait years to see what the full results are.

In the process, junior scientist careers can be made or absolutely destroyed in this system. A lucky student who gets the right project can find themselves as first author on a very high-impact paper and be set for years, but an experienced and previously successful postdoc can be ruined when they can’t produce the results the senior scientist want, or just not in the right timeframe. The senior scientist rarely have the time to do, or carefully look, over the actual research because they are so busy actually writing the papers and the grants needed to fund the work in the first place.

If reviewers catch these issues with the papers the author’s just shop the paper to other journals until it passes and/or they put up such a pitched battle with the editors they just let it pass. Sometimes the EDS feel they can’t handle the pressure, sometimes are just convinced by the bombast. All of us have seen published papers that we rejected for other journals earlier because the work is poorly done or is just incorrect. To be clear, the authors really believe in their papers even when they are aware of their shortcomings, and they usually have plenty of evidence that papers just as problematic or worse have been published, so why not theirs?

On top of everything, the universities and research institutions work over these findings with their press department and by the time it makes it to journalists, the story is so distorted that it’s barely related to the actual work. Bloggers digest this even further and the misperceptions [have] spread all over a much wider community. Even other scientists and different areas of the same field will absorb this news as truth. These are the scientists on those committees mentioned above, demanding a particular kind of result.

As a result of all, this medical research is much more inefficient and expensive than it needs to be. However scientists need [access to] jobs, grant money, and good facilities to do their work at all, and the system makes it clear what they need to do to ensure those necessities, so they oblige.

EDIT: I want to be clear that I am only speaking to a very specific area of scientific research here, and I do not intend to tar the whole field with the same brush

I can see clearly where people like Neil Ferguson come from.

Hilariously, the Right Sort (and their yapping dogs) think we should bend the knee to the White Smocks because, well, “Science!”

Naked appeals to authority cut no ice with me. Why should I humble myself before these people?

I bet that the average pastor have a higher standards of ethics than these “Men of Science” do.

The Black Smocks certainly have far less power over my life, liberty, and property than the White Smocks do. And they have fewer ways to hide their incompetence, or extract wealth from my pocket to theirs, or to compel obedience.

Summary

The White Smocks — like all the other Secularists — think that More Power means Less Responsibility… and No Accountability.

I hope I’ll be around to see it, when they get their Big Surprise.

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