In a continuing trend within the scientific community, Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of respected medical journal The Lancet, has announced that a large portion of the medical literature being published today is false, with perhaps up to half of the material being presented being based on bad science.
In an article titled "Offline: What is medicine’s 5 sigma?", Horton addresses concerns that were made as part of the presentations made at a symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research, held at the Wellcome Trust in London. These concerns regarded the issue of scientific malfeasance in published papers, due to a variety of factors, ranging from small sample sizes, poor methodology, and corporate bias.
"The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. 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," explains Dr. Horton.
"As one participant put it, ‘poor methods get results’."
Dr. Horton isn’t alone, with many scientific professionals speaking out against the inherent unreliability of scientific literature being published nowadays. In 2005 John P. A. Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, published a paper entitled "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False", addressing the same issues.
Dr. Horton also criticized the role of scientific journal editors for their part in perpetuating the publishing of poor scientific works: "We aid and abet the worst behaviors. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals."
Illustrating how easy it is for a study with spurious methods and data to be published, science journalist John Bohannon announced that an earlier study conducted by himself and his colleagues, titled "Chocolate with high Cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator" was actually a fraud.
Bohannon and his colleagues conducted the study itself as many other studies would be, but also included the same flaws, including using only a small cross-section of participants, and massaging the resulting data to find a "significant" statistic that they could base their publication on. Their aim was to produce a study that would be presented as legitimate, but would fall apart as soon as it was peer-reviewed. They submitted their paper to 20 journals, with half of those journals accepting the bogus study — without any peer review at all.
News of the study’s findings wound up widely published in the media — the "scientific" backing of weight-loss via eating a delicious food makes for too good a headline — but it wasn’t until Bohannon himself outed his study as bogus that anyone caught on to the poor science it was based on.