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Reason and Revelation Volume 25 #10

Unreliable Science

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

“Most published scientific research papers are wrong” (Kleiner, 2005). This shocking admission comes from work carried out by John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist who boldly asserts that there is a less than 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true. He indicates that “small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false” (see Kleiner, 2005). Ioannidis correctly maintains that replication of reported results is a critical component to distilling out error in science.

Sadly, society has been led to believe that we are not to question science. The popular media is quick to report new discoveries as “factual” even though the results have never been replicated or verified by another laboratory. Individuals would do well to be wary of findings until they have been independently replicated. As Kurt Kleiner, staff writer for New Scientist, observed:

Traditionally a study is said to be “statistically significant” if the odds are only 1 in 20 that the result could be pure chance. But in a complicated field where there are many potential hypotheses to sift through—such as whether a particular gene influences a particular disease—it is easy to reach false conclusions using this standard. If you test 20 false hypotheses, one of them is likely to show up as true, on average” (2005).

He went on to explain:

Odds get even worse for studies that are too small, studies that find small effects (for example, a drug that works for only 10% of patients), or studies where the protocol and endpoints are poorly defined, allowing researchers to massage their conclusions after the fact. Surprisingly, Ioannidis says another predictor of false findings is if a field is “hot,” with many teams feeling pressure to beat the others to statistically significant findings (emp. added).

Given the humanistic climate in which we now find ourselves, and knowing that most researchers are anxious to silence God and disprove His existence, parents would be wise to inform their children of Ioannidis’ findings. Scientific discoveries can be, and often are, “massaged” to fit the current evolutionary dogma. Nevertheless, the inspired Word of God remains the ultimate standard of Truth.


Kleiner, Kurt (2005), “Most Scientific Papers are Probably Wrong,” New Scientist, [On-line], URL, ion/dn7915.

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