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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 131

Stuart Ritchie — Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth

Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless — or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad science — with sometimes deadly consequences. Yet Science Fictions is far from a counsel of despair. Rather, it’s a defense of the scientific method against the pressures and perverse incentives that lead scientists to bend the rules. By illustrating the many ways that scientists go wrong, Ritchie gives us the knowledge we need to spot dubious research and points the way to reforms that could make science trustworthy once again. Shermer and Ritchie also discuss:

  • why we need to get science right because science deniers will pounce on such fraud, bias, negligence, and hype in science,
  • Daryl Bem’s ESP research and what was wrong with it,
  • “psychological priming” and the problem of replication,
  • sleep research and the problems in Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep,
  • Amy Cuddy and the problem with “Power Posture” research,
  • Andrew Wakefield and the biggest fraud in the history of science linking vaccines & autism,
  • diet and nutrition research and the complication of linking saturated fats, unsaturated fats, cholesterol, and heart disease,
  • Phil Zimbardo‘s Stanford Prison Experiment,
  • Samuel Morton’s skulls showing racial differences in head size, Steve Gould’s critique, the critique of Gould, and the critique of the critics of Gould,
  • self-plagiarism,
  • p values / p hacking
  • the Schizophrenia/amyloid cascade hypothesis and why it has been hard to prove,
  • the file-drawer problem,
  • how to detect fraud, and
  • Terror Management Theory and why it is almost certainly wrong.

Stuart Ritchie is a lecturer in the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College London. His main research focus is human intelligence: how it relates to the brain, how much it’s affected by genetics, and how much it can be improved by factors such as education. He is a noted supporter of the Open Science movement, and has worked on tools to reform scientific practice and help scientists become more transparent when reporting their results.

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This episode was released on September 1, 2020.

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