The Unbearable Asymmetry of BS

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EXCERPT: . . . While it is true that most scientists — at least the ones I know and work with — are hell-bent on getting things right, they are not therefore immune from human foibles. If they want to keep their jobs, at least, they must contend with a perverse “publish or perish” incentive structure that tends to reward flashy findings and high-volume “productivity” over painstaking, reliable research. On top of that, they have reputations to defend, egos to protect, and grants to pursue.

They get tired. They get overwhelmed. They don’t always check their references, or even read what they cite. They have cognitive and emotional limitations, not to mention biases, like everyone else. At the same time, as the psychologist Gary Marcus has recently put it, “it is facile to dismiss science itself. [...]

There is a veritable truckload of BS in science. When I say BS, I mean arguments, data, publications, or even the official policies of scientific organizations that give every impression of being perfectly reasonable — of being well-supported by the highest quality of evidence, and so forth — but which don’t hold up when you scrutinize the details. BS has the veneer of truth-like plausibility. It looks good. It sounds right. But when you get right down to it, it stinks. There are many ways to produce scientific BS....

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