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Opinion piece in Nature: A toast to the error detectors

Discussion in 'Research methodology news and research' started by Andy, Dec 31, 2019.

  1. Andy

    Andy Committee Member

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    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03909-2
     
  2. James Morris-Lent

    James Morris-Lent Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I wonder if we should be actively trying to engage some substantial fraction of science graduates as professional 'error-detectors' and/or disinterested replicators.

    I have to think that, for most people, it's unrealistic to ask them to churn out enough original research to stay afloat in academia and put in a spirited job of policing the quality of research in their general neighborhood. People only have so much stamina. Especially when you pile on the problems mentioned in the article that can come your way if you make a habit of speaking out against those more eminent.
     
  3. Sly Saint

    Sly Saint Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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  4. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Apart from research errors there seems to be a major problem with simple misstatements in books and articles. I have recently become rather incensed with them.

    Looking on Amazon recently I saw the statement by Strauss in the Foreward to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (1996) eds Demitrack and Abbey that

    Recent epidemiological studies in England showed that the persistence of fatigue after an acute viral illness is strongly dependent on pre-existing and co-morbid psychiatric factors (Bruce -Jones et al 1994; Cope et al 1994)

    I was surprised that I was unaware of this as one would have expected much to have been made of it. The simple reason for the lack of awareness is that the statement conveys a message opposite to the truth.

    Here is the abstract

    Two hundred and fifty patients attending primary care with glandular fever or an upper respiratory tract infection were studied prospectively up to 6 months after onset. Of these patients 228 were interviewed with the Life Events and Difficulties Schedule and the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia, giving Research Diagnostic Criteria for psychiatric disorders. The experience of severe social adversity (provoking agents) had a significant association with psychiatric disorder at 2 months (odds ratio = 5·3) and 6 months (odds ratio = 5·8) after onset of infection. This association was especially significant for depressive illness (odds ratio = 9·1 at 2 months and 11·9 at 6 months). In contrast, social adversity had little association with the development of the post-infectious fatigue syndrome, or delayed physical recovery. Social adversity may be an important maintaining factor for psychiatric disorders, especially depressive illness, following acute infections.


    Bruce-Jones, W., White, P., Thomas, J., & Clare, A. (1994). The effect of social adversity on the fatigue syndrome, psychiatric disorders and physical recovery, following glandular fever. Psychological Medicine, 24(3), 651-659. doi:10.1017/S003329170002780X

    How does Strauss not recognise the error, and how do the editors let it pass, especially as Abbey describes it correctly in her own chapter. Only those already fairly familiar with the literature will spot the error, and they are unlikely to be paying much heed to the book. Meanwhile the rest are wholly misled.


    I was also appalled to see this in the BMJ from 1993 by PK Thomas

    One such outbreak, which was to have an important influence on the course of events, took place at the Royal Free Hospital, London, in 1955. Little doubt exists that this was an epidemic of mass conversion hysteria,7 possibly triggered by a small nucleus of cases of postinfective encephalomyelitis. The term "benign myalgic encephalomyelitis," later abbreviated to myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), was applied to this epidemic

    BMJ. 1993 Jun 12; 306(6892): 1557–1558.
    doi: 10.1136/bmj.306.6892.1557

    The chronic fatigue syndrome: what do we know?
    P K Thomas

    Bear in mind that this is the man who was called in to advise the DWP and its junior minister a few months later. It seems that he, and the BMJ, were completely oblivious to the fact that Rachel Jenkins ,The Principal Medical Officer to the Department of Health, had in a lengthy introduction to Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (1991) eds Jenkins and Mowbray argued against the mass conversion hysteria hypothesis. "Little doubt exists" and such doubt as does exist must not be referred to. And whoever thought there would be references to "mass conversion hysteria" in 1993?

    These are the ways in which the history of our illness was subverted.
     
  5. Trish

    Trish Moderator Staff Member

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    We see this being played out by Sharpe, Crawley et al. describing Tuller and others of harassment for picking up the errors (deliberate or otherwise) in their work. Perhaps the Vice Chancellors of Bristol and Oxford Universities should be awarding prizes to Tuller, Wilshire, Hughes, Kindlon and others who have pointed out the major flaws in their employee's work.
     
  6. Barry

    Barry Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    The crucial thing glossed over is that science often has a huge responsibility to the wider public. Abusing that responsibility is deeply unethical at the very least.
     
  7. dave30th

    dave30th Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I see she is at UC Davis. I will touch base with her and introduce myself.
     
  8. Kitty

    Kitty Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Indeed, and we're seeing the consequences in appallingly sharp relief. Decades on, so many people still think vaccines cause autism – how many children have died, or suffered life-changing damage from encephalitis, because they weren't vaccinated against measles?
     
  9. alktipping

    alktipping Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    the phrase that says science is self correcting should also contain the words eventually after the retirement or deaths of the eminent scientist who provided the original work . but saying that all knowledge starts out flawed often because the wrong questions are being asked ,or the question being asked are motivated by political or financial institutions.
     
  10. InfiniteRubix

    InfiniteRubix Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Great thread
     
  11. Sly Saint

    Sly Saint Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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