[This article is republished with permission from The Epoch Times (July 26, 2022) where it appeared under the title “Scientists Are Destroying Our Trust in Science.”]
A newly published exposé in the journal Science claims that a fundamental study into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease may contain falsified data.
The 2006 report concluded that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a buildup of a certain type of plaque in the brain—a discovery that has guided research into Alzheimer’s cures ever since. But now, critics claim that the original authors “appear to have composed figures by piecing together parts of photographs from different experiments” calling into question their conclusions.
If true, this is a scientific scandal of the worst order. As the Science article notes, the dubious study strongly affected funding for research into treatments, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spending $1.6 billion to pursue the plaque hypothesis this fiscal year. Even worse, if scientific errors in the study were not caught during peer review due to data manipulation, it deprived Alzheimer’s researchers investigating other hypotheses of much-needed funding, possibly delaying the development of effective treatments.
Falsification of scientific research has been a chronic problem for the sector in recent years. For example, a South Korean researcher committed outright research fraud when in 2004 and again in 2005, he convinced Science—the same publication now exposing problems with Alzheimer’s plaque research—that he had perfected a method of cloning human embryos and had created 11 patient-specific lines of embryonic stem cells. Despite the peer review, it was all a lie and eventually the papers were retracted. But these reports had a major political impact, affecting government funding for embryonic versus adult stem cell research and influencing political debates about this controversial area of biotechnology. (Experiments to create cloned human embryos were finally successful in 2013.)
Perhaps the most famous – and damagingly influential – recent research hoax was published in The Lancet claiming that childhood MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccines can cause autism. Despite the paper being subsequently retracted by The Lancet, repeated subsequent investigations showing the author allegedly committed outright research fraud, and even the eventual revocation of his medical license, millions of people still believe the claim.
Of course, not all fake studies are misleading or based on manipulated data. As in all human endeavors, scientists sometimes make mistakes. This appears to be the case with long-accepted research showing that clinical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance of serotonin in the brain. But a new, in-depth review of the data came to the surprising conclusion that “the vast research effort based on the serotonin hypothesis has not produced convincing evidence of a biochemical basis for depression,” which serves as the starting point behind many antidepressants. .
Does this mean anti-depressants don’t work? The new study says not. But this crucial question will now require—you guessed it—more research. Let’s hope the correct answer comes soon as these medications can cause suicidal thoughts and other potentially serious side effects.
At this point, many scientists will cry out that catching research fraud and error is part of the scientific method, which allows for questioning—and challenges—of even the most seemingly established scientific findings. This is true, at least in theory. But recently, this fail-safe process has been increasingly circumvented by non-scientific ideological or political masterminds at the highest levels of the public health and science sectors.
Why, just the other day, former presidential adviser on COVID Dr. Deborah Birx admitted that she knew all along that vaccines would not prevent the transmission of the disease. But that’s not what she and the administration said at the time, as she acknowledged in an interview on Fox News (July 22, 2022).
“I knew these vaccines wouldn’t protect against infection,” she told Neal Cavuto. “And I think we overplayed the vaccines and that made people then worry that it won’t protect against serious illness and hospitalization.”
But Birx’s lie of omission led to much worse consequences than that. The lie that the needle would prevent disease became the supposed scientific basis for vaccine mandates in both the public and private sectors. Indeed, remember President Joe Biden’s demagoguery claiming that COVID had become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”? I sure did, and because of it, family members turned against each other and friends against friends. I also remember the past and pending mass shootings of soldiers, police, firefighters, medical personnel and other essential workers who refused to be shot. Perhaps if Birx and her colleagues in the national public health sector had been open about this issue from the start, all that social discord and personal pain would have been avoided.
Dr. Anthony Fauci engaged in the same kind of gaslighting when he said early in the pandemic that masks were not protective. He now admits he lied because he wanted to make sure there were enough masks for medical staff. But what justifies Fauci’s and then NIH head Francis Collins’ outrageous campaign to discredit the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration for daring to question the public health advisability of society-wide lockdowns? Nothing. Then there was Fauci’s hubristic claim that his criticism is anti-science because “I represent science.” Good grief, what a failure of leadership.
And let’s not forget how ideologically aware the scientific and medical institutions are. Today, critical race theory, radical gender ideology, and climate change hysteria are presented as if they are scientifically settled issues—which they are not. Indeed, remember the defensive article in The Lancet calling women “bodies with vaginas?”
How can we trust the conclusions of published scientific studies about these controversial cultural issues when the journals in which they appear are so clearly biased? Moreover, who among us believes that these journals would publish robust research if the findings went against the ideological grain of the editors? I sure don’t.
The damage done to science by fraudsters, data manipulation, sloppy peer review, ideological bias and outright lying by public scientific spokespeople cannot be overstated. There is only one cure for the current malady: uninterrupted and apolitical scientific excellence. Or to put it more simply: if the public is going to trust science again, scientists are going to have to do a better job of being scientists.
You may also want to read: The threat posed by “deepfakes” to scientific journals: Image manipulation has been a problem for decades, but convincing “deepfakes” can magnify the problem significantly. When Xiamen University researchers tested their deep fakes on experts, two out of three performed poorly just by sight; one scored 60%. Not soothing.