Science can be Wrong

A look at how "facts" we took for granted may not be true at all

August 1, 2021

Fake news is a term we've heard thrown around a lot in recent times and it turns out that, because of the class of people producing the news it is quite often that even the stuff they publish that isn't even intentionally misleading turns out to be wrong, and while sometimes see journalists retract statements and articles it is incredibly rare. But what about fake science? Are journalists the only people who publish things that turn out to be false? No of course not, peer-reviewed research turns out to be wrong all the time sometimes it is due to the way data is measured, sometimes it is due to biases scientists have, sometimes it is due to the politics of science, sometimes it is wrong on purpose and sometimes it is simply due to faulty experiments. And yet we almost never hear about the possibility of fake science like we do fake news, although we should be, some people claim that over 50% of peer-reviewed research articles eventually turn out to be proven wrong.

Let's take a look at one instance of this. For the past several years people have taken for granted the "fact" that bumblebees are an endangered species and that steps needed to be taken in order to save them. This "fact" was so widespread that they even made a children's movie to spread awareness on the topic (although it is probably the most scientifically inaccurate movie I've ever seen), Minecraft, the world's most popular video game, also added bees to spread awareness about their possible extinction to encourage some sort of action to save the bees.

But in order to tell if bumblebees really are going extinct you have to be able to track them all over the world, this requires cooperation from hundreds or maybe even thousands of people who all take their job of tracking bumblebees seriously. Right now there is a group of researchers who have been going through the data about the supposed bumblebee decline and they are starting to believe that the data that the bumblebee's endangerment is based off of is faulty and incomplete research and they are beginning to suspect that bumblebees may not actually be in decline.

One example that proves the data is faulty and incomplete is in the fact that no bumblebees were recorded in certain areas of North Dakota during a certain time period. A lazy researcher would look at this and cite it as evidence of bumblebees being in decline, but a researcher who actually wants to find the truth would have to ask themself if the data was really accurate. Were there in fact no bumblebees there? Or did the people who went out there to observe them just not manage to find any? Did they go on a day where the weather was bad and bumblebee sightings would be unlikely? Or did they even go at all? These are all questions that would have to be asked before the data is accepted, but in a lot of cases this data is inanswerable so it would not be ethical for a researcher to include the data in these cases. Unfortunately the current nature of the scientific community (and academic community as a whole in that matter) discourages this sort of critical look into difficult to obtain data like this, scientists are not paid to conduct science in this way, they are paid to publish papers and often times to confirm biases so often times getting a pay-check finds itself at a higher priority than finding the truth.

Claims about animals being endangered are the easiest for us to cast a critical eye on, relative to other insects bumblebees are fat, slow and noisy, but they are still often hard for us humans to spot, especially in the wild where there are plenty of places for them to hide. Then consider other species of animals, most animals have evolved over time to camouflage into their surroundings so that they could be hard for their predators or prey to spot, and anyone who has gone hunting can confirm that animals are quite good at hiding as well, they often know where we are before we know they are there so if they don't want to be seen they won't let us see them. Tracking animals is quite difficult. Of course I'm not denying the fact that there are species of animals which are endangered but I don't think that everything that they claim is endangered actually is. Do you even know how an animals qualifies for being endangered?

Of course zoology is not the only (or most important) field of science that falls victim to the possibility for lazy data collection, a rush for a paycheck, and biased conclusions. The fields of sociology, psycology, ecology, and medicine are being publicized in a way that aims to influence us to change how we live, some of these changes may be important but others may turn out to be dangerous, we can't trust "science" without scrutinizing it first. If the "science" holds up under our scrutiny then it is solid, but if it falls apart (like the whole bumblebee extinction thing seems to be) then it can't be trusted. The phrases "trust the science" or "follow the science" are baseless appeals to authority which is a useless logical fallacy when it is put forth without good evidence as it so often is these days. Science gets things wrong, (some publishers don't even seem to care that they publish nonsense) that is how it works, it is not religious doctrine that cannot change, it is a field where things change all the time as new discoveries are made, and it is a field which requires humility to practice, a trait that seems to be lacking in in much of today's scientific community.