New Report: Half Government-funded Science ‘Unreliable’

Written by Andrew Follett

Government funding is leading to scientific research that can’t be replicated, according to a new report detailing growing problems in the scientific community.

Published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the report illustrates how scientific research is susceptible to bias when it is funded by the government and how a considerable number of scientific studies cannot be replicated or reproduced. As a result, government policy based on the research isn’t based on scientific methods and cannot be accepted as fact.


“Medical research, psychology, and economics are all in the grip of a ‘reproducibility crisis.’ A pharmaceutical company attempting to confirm the findings of 53 landmark cancer studies was successful in only six instances, a failure rate of 89%. ” Donna Laframboise, a journalist who authored the report, said in a statement. “Government policies can’t be considered evidence-based if the evidence on which they depend hasn’t been independently verified, yet the vast majority of academic research is never put to this test.”

Laframboise and the GWPF suspect that environmental and climate science are also in the grips of a similar crisis of reproducibility — much of climate modelling is done via supercomputers and therefore cannot be easily checked by peer reviewers or the general public.

“Reproducibility is the backbone of sound science,” Laframboise continued.”If it is infeasible to independently evaluate the numerous assumptions embedded within climate model software, and if third parties lack comparable computing power, a great deal of climate science would appear to be inherently non-reproducible.”

Laframboise isn’t the only one to see a big problem developing in science.

“Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue,” Richard Horton, editor of the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, wrote in a study published last April. “Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

Government funding of research produces enormous financial incentives for scientists to engage in dubious laboratory research. Academics are under serious financial pressure to rapidly and continually publish research to sustain or further their careers, even if the research is essentially useless or misleading. Even major scientific journals like Nature are asking “Is Science Broken?”

“Over the last 50 years, we argue that incentives for academic scientists have become increasingly perverse in terms of competition for research funding, development of quantitative metrics to measure performance, and a changing business model for higher education itself,” Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy, researchers at Virginia Tech, wrote in a study published in September.

Due to this monopoly, scientists also have a huge incentive to tweak, or outright fake, statistical analyses to make results seem significant or to align with government priorities. A growing number of scientists have noticed the wave of retractions, especially among social scientists. Polling indicates that such consequences are causing science itself to become less trusted.

Another study found that 34 percent of researchers self-report that they have engaged in “questionable research practices,” including “dropping data points on a gut feeling” and “changing the design, methodology, and results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source,” whereas 72 percent of those surveyed knew of colleagues who had done so. Virginia Tech researchers note that the National Science Foundation estimates that research misconduct creates over $110 million in annual costs.

As a result of these problems, researchers have a documented tendency to find evidence of phenomena they happen to believe in and to reject observations that are unpopular with federal funders. In a survey of 2,000 research psychologists conducted in 2011, over half admitted they selectively reported experiments, which gave the result they were after.

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