There’s a deep crisis crippling science. Just don’t ask the Science Bros and IFLScience normies about it, because their grasp of actual science rarely goes beyond witless internet memes. These are the people who think Neil deGrasse Tyson is a great scientist.

Behind the public facade of ‘Trust the Science!’, though, crises are shaking the foundations of the scientific enterprise. One is the Replication Crisis. Replication – that is, conducting the same experiment and getting the same results – is a core principle of science. If an experiment can’t be replicated, it’s almost certainly wrong, either in its design, or its misinterpretation of results, or worse, through deliberate fraud.

The sheer volume of scientific papers, though, means that for decades most have never been replicated: their results have been taken on faith. Worse, when someone does take the time to try, most of them fail the replication test. Depending on the field, as few as 11 per cent of papers were able to be replicated. This includes the “hard” sciences, like chemistry, physics and engineering.

Despite all this, most researchers say they still trust the published literature.

Which begs the question: at what point does trust in science become blind faith?

Another grave scientific crisis is the Science Bros’ holy grail: peer review.

A common, mistaken, view is that “peer-reviewed” means “proven”. This is far from the case. Peer-review merely means that a group of relevant scientists have looked over the paper and found no obvious mistakes. Obvious mistakes. Certainly, peer-review is a vital process in science, but it’s the beginning not the end. As Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty has said, the scientific rubber really hits the road after publication. Plenty of peer-reviewed studies, in even the most prestigious journals, have been debunked after publication. The infamous Wakefield study, for instance, or NASA’s “arsenic-based lifeforms” paper. Proving, too, that science is a non-hierarchical system, the Gergis et al paper, which generated media hysteria with its headline claim that Australasia has hottest 60 years in a millennium passed peer-review – but had to be retracted after a ‘mere’ blogger pointed out its fundamental errors.

This was a paper, remember, which passed peer-review at a prestigious climate journal and was slated for an IPCC report.

All of these scientific crises come home to roost with the major publishers of academic journals. And there are few bigger in the field than Wiley — John Wiley & Sons. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Wiley pumps out more than 1,400 scientific and other publications around the world.

Wiley, like the rest of the scientific establishment, is in big trouble.

In March, it revealed to the NYSE a $US9 million ($13.5 million) plunge in research revenue after being forced to “pause” the publication of so-called “special issue” journals by its Hindawi imprint, which it had acquired in 2021 for US$298 million ($450 million).
Its statement noted the Hindawi program, which comprised some 250 journals, had been “suspended temporarily due to the presence in certain special issues of compromised articles”.

Many of these suspect papers purported to be serious medical studies, including examinations of drug resistance in newborns with pneumonia and the value of MRI scans in the diagnosis of early liver disease. The journals involved included Disease Markers, BioMed Research International and Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience.

Months went by, and hundreds upon hundreds more papers were withdrawn. By last November, it was up to 8,000 papers. Last week, it reported more than 11,300 papers withdrawn and 19 entire journals shut down.

The Wiley scandal is just the tip of an iceberg that reaches from the pinnacle of scientific research to the murky depths of university corruption.

As we saw in Australia during Covid, universities have become hopelessly addicted to the rivers of gold furnished by ‘international students’ – that is, from China and India.

In part due to the practically non-existent English skills of these students, universities have not only dumbed-down standards, but turned a blind eye to routine cheating and plagiarism.

This infection – the commodification of scholarship, the industrialisation of cheating – has now spread to the heart of scientific, higher research.

Scientific publication is not just a huge business – estimated at $45 billion a year – it’s career-defining for scientists. Universities require academics to publish a set number of papers per year as part of their KPIs. Getting published in the prestigious journals is the key to promotion and funding.

Citations have become a currency, and few institutions devote the time or resources to check the papers in question.

A literal scientific crime ring has sprung into life.

Shadowy online paper mills are selling authorship credits to those researchers willing to pay for them.

In remarks provided to investigative website Retraction Watch, the UK Research Integrity Office recently described the problem as vast: “These are organised crime rings that are committing large-scale fraud.”

The mills, principally operating from China, India, Iran, Russia and other post-Soviet states, have even been planting stooges in editors’ chairs at certain journals and paying bribes to others to ensure fake papers are published.

ABC Australia

The crisis doesn’t mean that science itself is illegitimate – but it very much means that the scientific industrial complex has become hopelessly corrupt. Even measures supposed to tackle it – such as the Australian Research Integrity Committee (ARIC) – are nothing more than fig leaves. ARIC itself investigates nothing; instead, it relies on universities and academics to investigate themselves and report their ‘findings’.

Hands up who trusts that?

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...