KENT COVINGTON, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 2nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Kent Covington.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. World founder Joel Belz now on assessing God and science.
JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: The next time someone tells you something as gospel truth, and then cites scientific agreement on the matter, try this response: “Scientists also agree that 43 percent of the time someone claims agreement among all scientists, no such agreement exists.”
The discussion, of course, is phony on its face. No one in the history of research has ever done a survey that includes all scientists. But we live in a culture so beholden to science and so-called statistical evidence that we are sitting ducks when either deity is used to prove a point.
The extent of our gullibility was highlighted in an April 17th Wall Street Journal column. The headline: “How Bad Is the Government’s Science?” Pretty bad, say researchers Peter Wood and David Randall. Both work with the National Association of Scholars.
Wood and Randall suggest that at least half of all articles appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals fall short in the conclusions they draw. Their proof? The research behind such reports simply can’t be reproduced.
Wood and Randall write, “The chief cause of irreproducibility may be that scientists, whether wittingly or not, are fishing fake statistical significance out of noisy data. If a researcher looks long enough, he can turn any fluke correlation into a seemingly positive result.”
Other factors compound the problem: Scientists can make arbitrary decisions about research techniques. They are susceptible to groupthink. And negative results typically go into the file drawer. Wood and Randall note: “Exciting new findings are a route to tenure and fame, and there’s little reward for replication studies.”
And yet: Such wobbly research is often used to justify new government policies and programs. And taxpayers, of course, pick up the tab.
Wood and Randall say the pattern is probably worst in the social sciences. A 2015 article in Science cited researchers’ efforts to replicate 100 prominent psychology studies; only 39 attempts confirmed the original findings. A biotechnology firm tried to reproduce 53 “landmark” studies in hematology and oncology. But only six have been validated.
This tendency to churn out new, cutting-edge findings is particularly relevant for thoughtful WORLD Radio listeners. You’ll recall three specific controversies we often cover in counter-cultural ways: gender issues, climate change, and origins—how the earth came into being.
We believe the science is far from settled on these three issues, so we’ll keep asking critical questions. But it’s important to note we’re not looking to science as the final word anyway.
In the end, it’s not statistics or experiments that prove our case. It’s God’s Word. And if we add science to our argument, let’s make sure it’s honest science and valid statistics. The God of all truth deserves at least that much.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Joel Belz.