What’s is science’s biggest fail of all time?
I nominate everything about diet and fitness.
Maybe science has the diet and fitness stuff mostly right by now. I hope so. But I thought the same thing twenty years ago and I was wrong.
Today I saw a link to an article in Mother Jones bemoaning the fact that the general public is out of step with the consensus of science on important issues. The implication is that science is right and the general public are idiots. But my take is different.
I think science has earned its lack of credibility with the public. If you kick me in the balls for 20-years, how do you expect me to close my eyes and trust you?
And I somewhat disagree with this response. It’s a common cop-out:
Who, exactly, does Adams think has been kicking him in the balls for 20 years?
Scientists themselves? Science teachers? Pop-science journalists? He downplays the roles of all these parties in his article[…]
The article says that the problem is pop-science journalists and the people who share their stories on Facebook & twitter.
Sorry, but no. Those parties are somewhat at fault, but so are real, bona fide tenured scientists and the scientific community.
Here is another weak argument:
How indeed? In the scientific journal papers I read, I rarely (if ever) encounter a scientist who claims anything like “this topic is now closed.”
Of course, scientists rarely say a topic is closed, but they say things like “now that we’ve determined X, this opens new avenues of research.”
The overhyping of nutritional claims by scientist is bad enough that Nature wrote an editorial naming and shaming a Harvard department chair for oversimplifying the research.
Outside of nutrition, look at this egregious paper from 2013, heavily quoted in the public press: Evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River policy Yuyu Chena, Avraham Ebensteinb, Michael Greenstonec, and Hongbin Lie. The abstract says: the results indicate that life expectancies are about 5.5 y (95% CI: 0.8, 10.2) lower in the north owing to an increased incidence of cardiorespiratory mortality. The only hint of how weak the support of the claim is the large width of the confidence interval, but read Andrew Gellman‘s takedown to fully understand how crappy it is.
If you want something medical, this is an older link of scientists misleading journalists.