The phrase “trust the science” isn’t as popular in the culture as it has been in the past due to the recent revelations about inaccurate scientific statements during the pandemic. And the phrase “trust the science” isn’t as accepted as it was in the scientific community due to so many retractions.
The co-founders of Retraction Watch have been monitoring this problem for years. They found that only 40 scientific papers were retracted in the year 2000. But last year, 5,500 scientific papers were retracted. They concluded that only about a fifth of the retractions have been done due to an “honest error.”
The surge in bogus papers is driven in part by the reality that scientists need to “publish or perish.” But those pressures have been on academics for decades. A larger problem is the fact that many are turning to “paper mills” that sell manuscripts and other research projects to scientists needing to publish.
People are being harmed by these bogus papers. One anesthesiologist falsified data on an ineffective blood substitute that was widely cited in the literature. Patients were harmed by this false research.
Another aspect of this problem is illustrated by the so-called replication crisis. So many of the results published in scientific papers cannot be reproduced by other researchers. The University of Virginia attempted to reproduce five “landmark” cancer studies. It failed in one case and produced inconclusive results in two others. This suggests that “the science” in all these cases might be wrong.
It is becoming more and more difficult to “trust the science” when we discover how many scientific papers and scientific statements are wrong.