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The Myth of Unbiased Science
Everyone knows politicians are typically controlled or at least influenced by their large campaign donors. It's also common knowledge that mainstream news is subject to financial pressures. Not only does corporate media pander to its advertisers, but it's also less diverse and more predictable as ownership is concentrated in fewer hands. How is it, then, that the dominant perception about scientists is still that their work is essentially objective and not subject to the corrupting influence of financial "strings"?
As we've become more skeptical about politicians, it's become harder for our representatives to get away with obvious "sell-out" votes. As we've become more skeptical about media, more of us are turning to alternative online media and both newspaper readership and major network viewership are plummeting. Corporate media are suffering for selling out. The question now is what corrupt agenda items might scientists be getting away with today simply because we are still largely unskeptical of their work? What abuses might we put a stop to if we adopted a healthier level of skepticism about the influence of money in science and academia?
The Sorry State of Status Quo Research
What if I told you that, in certain medical-related fields, somewhere between 75% and 90% of published research papers cannot be validated? That has been the finding of two recent industry research audits conducted at Amgen and Bayer as reported in Michael Hiltzik's LA Times article
"Science has lost its way, at a big cost to humanity" (10/27/2013)
. Hiltzik wrote:
The One Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune
"A few years ago, scientists at the Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen set out to double-check the results of 53 landmark papers in their fields of cancer research and blood biology. The idea was to make sure that research on which Amgen was spending millions of development dollars still held up. They figured that a few of the studies would fail the test-- that the original results couldn't be reproduced because the findings were especially novel or described fresh therapeutic approaches.
"But what they found was startling: Of the 53 landmark papers, only six could be proved valid.
" 'Even knowing the limitations of preclinical research,' observed C. Glenn Begley, then Amgen's head of global cancer research, 'this was a shocking result.'
"Unfortunately, it wasn't unique. A group at Bayer HealthCare in Germany similarly found that only 25% of published papers on which it was basing R&D projects could be validated, suggesting that projects in which the firm had sunk huge resources should be abandoned. Whole fields of research, including some in which patients were already participating in clinical trials, are based on science that hasn't been, and possibly can't be, validated." ... (More)
As shocking as it is to find most research results aren't confirmed by researchers attempting to reproduce the results, the problem goes well beyond simple human error and careerist "hype". It appears that that the old addage "The one who pays the piper calls the tune" applies to medical research just as much as any other field. For example, according to a 2010 complaint filed by Merck virologists Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski, they "witnessed firsthand the improper testing and data falsification in which Merck engaged to artificially inflate the vaccine's efficacy findings." ...
The fundamental conflict between money and truth is even acknowledged by some research publishers.
The old journalistic imperative to "follow the money" is no less sage in the sciences than it is in politics.
In October 2013, the editors of the prestigious British Medical Journal, Heart, Thorax and BMJ Open publications
"decided that the journals will no longer consider for publication any study that is partly or wholly funded by the tobacco industry". In other words, research funded by tobacco is not only considered questionable-- the editors have
decided a policy of presumed unworthiness, based on the funding source, is their best option to maintain their
publications' standards of quality.
Academic Lynchings: An Extreme Double Standard
In addition to mistakes, hype and willful falsification of research, there is also a problem of orchestrated attacks against researchers whose findings are inconvenient for certain powerful industries. Given the context that only 10%-25% of typical research can be validated, the firestorms of controversy and destroyed careers routinely aimed at research that threatens corporate profits should be seen as an obvious case of double standards. Examples of attacked research include Dr. Andrew Wakefield's vaccine-autism links, Dr. Seralini's research suggesting a link between GMO corn and cancer in rats and many others. The simple fact that we are surprised by the results of Amgen and Bayer's audits strongly suggests that very few, if any, industry-friendly research papers were previously scrutinized to the extent that these researchers' industry-unfriendly papers have been.
Unfortunately, such orchestrated attacks, sometimes called "academic lynchings", are often permanently damaging to researchers' careers and have a chilling effect on other researchers-- defining boundaries of acceptable research beyond which they can expect similar abuse. Such "controversial" topics are far less likely to be investigated by subsequent researchers after special interests "make an example of" even just one researcher.
Dr. Wakefield describes the dishonest attacks on his research here.
The Research Paper That Wasn't There
But, it gets worse than that. Even beyond mistakes, hype, industry fraud and academic lynchings, there is one more huge casualty of biased science. There is a great deal of promising research that simply cannot be done because of the current research climate. Search all you like, but you will find practically no peer-reviewed large-sample published studies comparing the health of vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated children, particularly studies including minor infections and allergies. You will not find trials evaluating medical cannabis oil's effects on cancer despite hundreds of annecdotal cases of remission and cure of many different kinds of cancer simply by using this age-old plant-derived medicine. It is not simply that funding is unavailable for these fields of research. It is the political barriers to publication, the threat of academic lynching and, in the case of medical cannabis, unreasonable legal barriers that discourage most such research.
Better Living Through The Scientific Method... AND Responsible Skepticism
It is unfortunate when our society loses confidence in major institutions like the political system, the media and academic science.
In 1974, the impact of Watergate and Nixon's disgraced resignation on America's attitude about politicians was extemely damaging, but also dis-illusioning in the best sense of the word.
In 2003, the impact of the corporate media's ignoring weapons inspectors' admonitions that Iraq had no significant caches of
weapons of mass destruction in the lead up to the Iraq war had a huge impact on America's trust of mainstream media.
It's a two-edged sword. Did increased mistrust in media play a role in averting the near-involvement of the U.S. in a war with Syria in 2013? For that matter, will media cynicism prevent the U.S. from repeating the mistake in Iraq in the coming weeks?
Perhaps future events will show us if such hypothetical benefits of cynicism outweigh the psychological costs.
The costs of a culture of cynical skepticism are not negligible and many will find that sufficient reason to avoid drawing larger conclusions about the unreliability of scientific research generally.
Nonetheless, the costs of blindly trusting our current research and publications processes, which have been proven unreliable,
are much worse. We, as a society, are wasting billions of dollars pursuing research based on false premises from
erroneous and/or corrupted science.
We have policies that approve poisons for consumption while natural medicines are blocked.
We are probably missing opportunities for cures to diseases that have plagued
humanity for generations. We may be missing out on far more than that-- the "unknown unknowns" (to borrow a phrase from Aspartame champion and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) could be astronomically beneficial to humanity if we only had an academic climate more conducive to free exploration.
Above all, we must not abandon the scientific method, but seek to apply it more fairly, rigorously, consistently and extensively than those who are scientists in name only, wearing the blinders of their corporate funders and designing their studies to support pre-approved conclusions. When they call us "pseudo-scientists", "science deniers" and worse because we question their work, we must not stoop to their level of personal attack, but simply ask probing questions about their data, methodology and interpretations. That means we have to do our homework. The scientific method is our friend. Those who subvert it should expect questions.
In honor of poet laureate William Stafford, who was born 100 years ago this year,
I would like to close with this excerpt from his poem "A Ritual to Read to Each Other":
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give-- yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep."
Fukushima's Children are Dying
More than 48 percent of some 375,000 young people-- nearly 200,000 kids-- tested by the Fukushima Medical University near the smoldering reactors now suffer from pre-cancerous thyroid abnormalities, primarily nodules and cysts. The rate is accelerating.
More than 120 childhood cancers have been indicated where just three would be expected, says Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
The nuclear industry and its apologists continue to deny this public health tragedy. Some have actually asserted that "not one person" has been affected by Fukushima's massive radiation releases, which for some isotopes exceed Hiroshima by a factor of nearly 30. ...
The Three-Year-Old Who Convicted His Murderer
The most encouraging and compelling cases of reincarnation involve physical confirmation of childrens' past life memories. This case is particularly dramatic and garnered much attention when I re-posted it last week-- over 7,000 people clicked through to look at the story.
'Politically Explosive' Docs Show How NSA Wiretaps Earth:
Latest reporting on Snowden-leaked documents detail importance and reach of agency's third-party agreements
Edward Snowden's leak is the gift that keeps on giving-- "New reporting by The Intercept and a partner newspaper in Denmark reveals that the National Security Agency, beyond its well-documented close-ties to the so-called Five Eyes nations, has extensive and previously unknown surveillance agreements with other nations that allow it unsurpassed access to global communication systems and the private information of the world's citizens that travel through them."
June 12 -- Loving Day
in 1967, Mildred and Richard Loving won their case in the U.S. Supreme Court (vs. State of Virginia), overturning anti-interracial marriage laws in the last 16 states having them and re-affirming their own right to be married to each other. Loving Day is not yet an official recognized holiday by the U.S. government, but there is a movement to persuade U.S. President Barack Obama to make it so.
June 19 -- "Juneteenth" Freedom Day
is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas in 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the United States. ...
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"I recently enjoyed watching the latest X-Men film (Days of Future Past). If I may wax poetic about the importance of 2014 as a potential turning point for humanity, I think this would be a good time for each of us to remember why we were 'sent back' to this point in time and what our super-powers are. We all have something resembling a super-power you know-- something we can do for others that they are unable to do for themselves that will make more difference than we might ever know. Whatever it is for you, please start doing it now, even if it means overcoming a lesser vision of yourself than you're destined for, even if it is painful." -- mt
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