We always talk about how the society is becoming more resistant to well-established science facts, but we rarely touch on why this is happening in the first place! Imagine a day where people no longer trust science anymore! I’m afraid it’s not far away from now if it’s not already happening! Let me tell you why.
For a starter, there is an increase in the number of scientific publications that are filled with unreliable data. And we’re talking about hundreds of publications that discuss serious topics such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, stem cell research, daily life style, you name it!
According to Retraction Watch — a database dedicated to keeping track on retracted papers — around 2315 research papers were retracted (withdrawn) between 2013 and 2016 from prestigious journals. And the number of retractions keeps on increasing every year! And these are just the ones that we know about. Why were they retracted? It’s simple, because these papers were full of unreliable data. Majority of them were intentionally faked by researchers who lost their credibility and decided to put all the ethics of scientific research aside.
On the positive side, these researchers often lose their jobs and get banned from joining any research institutions in the future. Furthermore, they can no longer apply for research grants because of committing fraud, misconduct and ethical violations.
A broken academic system
Let’s break it down. Why do some scientists commit fraud in the scientific process? The academic system is broken. If they want to continue to survive and receive grants for further research, they are imposed to deliver results and publish as many papers as possible and in no time! This is why many of them rush into publishing whatever they find without extensive testing. Even if that means manipulating images to get a “high-quality” publication in a “decent” journal. What’s even worse is that some of them are sold out. Big companies provide them grants with the hope of publishing results in favor of those companies.
Take coffee and electronic cigarettes for example. Hundreds of research papers were published in the last 5 years clashing each other. Some of them were in favor of these, some were not. Both parties used scientific research but imposed their biased opinions to reach to these conclusions. To serve who? Well, not science, that’s for sure.
A source of income or a source of knowledge?
The second major problem is the scientific journals. In the past, we had limited number of scientific journals. Back then the process of peer reviewing (fact-checking and validating the results) was very rigorous! Now? Not so much. Scientific journals are using their databases as a source of income. Researchers have to pay thousands of dollars to get their research published. And once it’s online, it’s locked behind a paywall and not made freely accessible to everyone. This helps the journal to make even more money by selling other people’s research that was supposed to be freely available. Because it is a successful business model, this motivated ordinary people to create their own “scientific journals” to make money out of them, and they’re prepared to publish whatever you give them as long as you pay the publishing fees! Tons of unreliable “scientific journals” are born every day, and it is a very serious problem!
Another big issue is science journalists, who are supposed to deliver the results to the general public by re-writing them in simple words. Most of them hardly deliver the exact content of the scientific publications. Instead, they play around with the headlines, manipulate the entire research, and very often mix it with their own opinions. At the end of the day, the research paper and the news article about it are dancing in two different halls. Several science journalists prefer to use clickbait as a way to generate more clicks to their site. After all, it’s the best way to show you more ads and make money out of you.
The rise of pseudoscience
We are also witnessing the birth of hundreds – if not thousands – of websites that are dedicated to falsifying scientific research and giving the general public the wrong idea of what science is all about. You may call them “fake news”, but I prefer to call them “load of shit”. They will write whatever they get their hands on. Each article of theirs is 95% opinions and 5% pseudoscience. They place tons of ads and use sensational headlines to make sure you get to click on them at some point. I think it is okay to put ads as long as you deliver authentic and reliable content that has been fact-checked and validated, but that’s hardly the case.
Lack of credibility and conscience
The final source of the problem is science communicators, the direct connection between all of the above and the general public. Their job is to make science more engaging so that you enjoy learning. Many people today call themselves science communicators without even having the slightest understanding of science! Social media have made it possible for anyone to reach millions of people across the globe. It’s great, but it can be a problem.
Some science communicators LOVE presenting science as an anti-religious movement, which gives people the wrong impression about science. I’m not a religious person myself, but I think it’s wrong to drive people away from science just because you want to use science as a means to promote your belief system. It’s called radical scientism. Science is a process of validating hypotheses to reach to concrete conclusions, it’s not a movement or an organized religion.
Scientists or pretenders?
The other group constitutes “communicators” who called themselves “nutritionists”. Most of them hardly know anything about science, yet they strip themselves of all ethics and use the name of science to sell people untested products. When people use them and find out that they don’t work, they blame it on science. They jeopardize people’s lives so that they make money … all in the name of science!
Science has made our lives easier and allowed us to learn incredible facts about ourselves, our universe, our existence and the world around us. But sadly, it has been compromised and it is at risk. If we do not protect it now, we are going to lose it. And once we lose science, the whole world will collapse. There will be no reliable sources of information. After all, you wouldn’t trust anyone in a world filled with chaos and misinformation.
What should you do?
Always double check the sources. Ask questions and read more before you reach any conclusions or make any decisions based on science. Thanks to the power of the Internet, every piece of misinformation spreads faster than authentic facts! So, shield yourself with knowledge and stay on top of everything.
Assuming that we are serious about solving the problem, we need to fix the academic system first, build smart algorithms that detect unreliable sources and flag them before getting published, fix the scientific publishing system and boycott any journals that are prepared to publish whatever they get their hands on, and expose anyone who uses the word “science” for their own agenda or gain.