Science fiction | Adventist Review
by Stuart Richie Science fiction: how FRAUD, BIAS, NEGLIGENCE and HYPE harm the search for truth (Metropolitan Books; New York, 2020) is fascinating reading for anyone still indoctrinated by scientism, the idea that science is the purest, if not the only, path to truth.
In the preface, Richie wrote, “Other books feature scientists battling a gallery of rogue pseudo-scientists: creationists, homeopaths, flat earthers, astrologers and the like, who misunderstand and abuse science – usually unknowingly, sometimes maliciously, and always irresponsibly. . This book is different. It reveals a deep corruption within science itself: a corruption that affects the very culture in which research is practiced and published. Science, the discipline in which we should find the harshest skepticism, the sharpest rationality and the most stubborn empiricism, has become home to a dizzying array of incompetence, delusion, lies and self-deception. In the process, the central goal of science – to find our way ever closer to the truth – is undermined. (Richie, p. 6-7 Kindle Edition).
Deep corruption, incompetence, illusion, lies and self-deception? A vertiginous picture, of this one?
All of this in science – supposedly the unadulterated source of rationality, objectivity and certainty, particularly because it employs the vaunted “scientific method”? Stuart Richie said it, not me. And, of course, he’s not a biblical fundy like me, and yet what he wrote about science was surprisingly revealing, especially for a biblical fundy like me. I learned long ago to reject claims – like evolution, like no universal flood, like no original Adam and Eve – that have been overwhelmingly “proven” by science.
Its first chapter is titled “The Replication Crisis”. Replication is fundamental to science, the idea that a scientific study can be replicated, repeated by others to see if they get the same results. What a powerful way to back up scientific claims, especially after they’ve been published in reputable journals, which seems to be the big goal of many scientists: to get your findings published, and in top journals as well.
Only problem? As the title “The Replication Crisis” suggests, there has been, well, a replication crisis: that is, in many scientific studies, some famous ones, those who have tried to reproduce could not because some of these original (and famous) studies were, it turns out, either based on much weaker evidence than was first proclaimed; or downright false; or even fraudulent, although in some cases they have been published in reputable journals. Richie goes through example after example – from psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, medicine (including cancer studies), biomedicine – and shows where replication has failed, sometimes at a amazing pace too.
Ritchie writes, “Nearly 90% of chemists said they had had the experience of not replicating another researcher’s result; almost 80% of biologists said the same, as did almost 70% of physicists, engineers and medical scientists. (Ritchie, Stuart. p. 42).
Many people, for example, have read about the Stanford prison experiment by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who became one of the world’s most respected psychologists through the experiment. Based on this experience, Zimbardo testified as an expert witness in the trial of US military guards accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The only problem was that later studies showed how poorly designed the experiment was, and that despite the enormous attention the experiment had received, the results, as Ritchie writes, were “scientifically meaningless.” (Ritchie, Stuart. science fiction p. 30).
Ritchie continues: “There are countless other examples: almost every case I will describe in this book involves a scientific ‘discovery’ which, upon closer examination, turned out to be less robust than it appeared. , is completely wrong. But even more worryingly, these examples are drawn only from the studies that have come under this scrutiny. These are just the ones we know about. How many other results, we must ask, would prove impossible to replicate if someone tried? (Ritchie, p. 34).
It’s just replication. His next chapter was titled “Fraud”, the next “Bias”, the next “Neglect” and the next “Hype”, each showing, well, that fraud, bias, negligence and hype can lead to misrepresentations, albeit with the power and prestige that the name “science” bestows on anything to which it attaches.
Ritchie wrote, for example, about “candidate genes,” genes believed to be linked to very definitive character traits, such as depression, schizophrenia, and cognitive test scores. These “candidate genes” were apparently a big deal, although within a few years the whole idea had become almost entirely discredited.
Listen to what Ritchie writes about these highly touted scientific studies, some published in prestigious journals, on candidate genes: we now know it’s completely wrong. As Scott Alexander of the Slate Star Codex blog put it, “It’s not just some explorer who comes back from the Orient and claims there are unicorns out there. It’s the explorer that describes the life cycle of unicorns, what unicorns eat, all the different subspecies of unicorns, which cuts of unicorn meat are the tastiest, and a blow-by-blow account of a wrestling match between unicorns and Bigfoot. ” (Ritchie, Stuart. science fiction p. 141).
A massive edifice of detailed foundation studies that we now know are completely wrong? God only knows how many other massive edifices of scientific study have been, and are now, being built on foundations which we do not yet know to be false, and which may never be (at least until millennium). But what about those we know? How many detailed studies are conducted, based on the false premise that life evolved billions of years ago, and that life was never pre-planned, never consciously designed, and never directed to specific goals ? The fact that your eyes see, your ears hear, your mouth tastes, your nose smells and your brain thinks are, according to these studies, just the luck of the draw, which helped your survival, and nothing else. After all, science stands behind these discoveries, and woe to the fools who dare to imply that these things, from the structure of mitochondria to the processes that create consciousness, were engineered.
And if studies of what exists now – of what can be seen, felt, touched, x-rayed, dissected and analyzed down to their atomic composition – can be so fragile, what about “the massive edifice detailed studies” of events that supposedly took place billions of years beyond our reach? How many millions of Christians, who claim the Bible as the foundation of their beliefs, will compromise those beliefs – accepting unproven theories like theistic evolution or progressive creation – to obey every proclamation made in the name of science?
But understanding each other between Christians is nothing new. From accepting Sunday instead of the biblical seventh day, to worshiping saints, Christianity has never successfully guarded against culture. So why should it be any different today?
And while, of course, there are many diligent, hard-working, and honest scientists, as Ritchie’s book shows, there are also many who are not. And we don’t always know the difference. This is one more reason not to fall under the spell of scientism, especially when some of its claims contradict any reasonable reading of the Word of God.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of Adult Bible Study Guides and a longtime columnist for Adventist magazine.