June 1, 2022

Science Fictions

About the bad, the worse, and the ugly.

Clifford Goldstein

Stuart Richie’s Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search For Truth1 is a fascinating read for anyone still brainwashed by scientism, the idea that the science is the purest, if not the only, way to truth.

Introducing the Farce

In the preface Richie wrote: “Other books feature scientists taking the fight to a rogue’s gallery of pseudoscientists: creationists, homeopaths, flat-Earthers, astrologers, and their ilk, who misunderstand and abuse science—usually unwittingly, 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 most pin-sharp rationality, and the hardest-headed empiricism, has become home to a dizzying array of incompetence, delusion, lies, and self-deception. In the process, the central purpose of science—to find our way ever closer to the truth—is being undermined.”2

Deep corruption, incompetence, delusion, lies, and self-deception? A dizzying array, thereof?

All this in science—supposedly the unalloyed fount of rationality, objectivity, and certainty, especially because it employs the much-ballyhooed “scientific method”? Stuart Richie said it, not me. And obviously he’s not a biblical “fundy” like me, and yet what he wrote about science was astonishingly eye-opening, especially for a biblical “fundy” like me. I long ago learned to reject claims— such as evolution, such as no universal flood, such as no original Adam and Eve—that have been overwhelmingly “proved” by science.

His first chapter is titled “The Replication Crisis.” Replication is foundational to science, the idea that a scientific study can be replicated, repeated by others in order to see if they get the same results. What a powerful way to confirm scientific claims, especially after they have been published in reputable journals, which seems to be a big goal of many scientists: get your findings published, and in the best journals, too.

Identifying the Problem

Only problem? As the title “The Replication Crisis” suggests, there has been, well, a replication crisis: that is, in many scientific studies, some famous, those who tried to replicate them couldn’t because some of those original (and famous) studies were, it turns out, either based on much weaker evidence than first proclaimed; or flat out false; or even fraudulent—even though in some cases they were published in reputable journals. Richie goes through example after example—from psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, medicine (including cancer studies), biomedicine—and shows where replication failed, at times at an astonishing rate, too.

Writes Ritchie: “Nearly 90 percent of chemists said that they’d had the experience of failing to replicate another researcher’s result; nearly 80 percent of biologists said the same, as did almost 70 percent of physicists, engineers, and medical scientists.”3

Many people, for instance, have read of the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo, who became one of the world’s most respected psychologists because of the experiment. Based on this experiment, Zimbardo testified as an expert witness at the trial of U.S. military guards accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The only trouble was that later studies showed just how poorly conceived the experiment was, and that despite the enormous attention the experiment had received, the results, as Ritchie writes, were “scientifically meaningless.”4

Ritchie continues: “There are countless other examples: almost every case I’ll describe in this book involves a scientific ‘finding’ that, upon closer scrutiny, turned out to be either less solid than it seemed, or to be completely untrue. But more worryingly still, these examples are drawn just from the studies that have received that all-important scrutiny. These are just the ones we know about. How many other results, we must ask ourselves, would prove unreplicable if anyone happened to make the attempt?”5

That’s just replication. His next chapter was titled “Fraud,” the next “Bias,” the next “Negligence,” and the next “Hype,” each one showing, well, that fraud, bias, negligence, and hype can lead to false claims, all coming with the power and prestige that the name “science” lends to anything it gets attached to.

Unelected Candidates

Ritchie wrote, for example, about “candidate genes,” genes believed linked to very definitive character traits, such as depression, schizophrenia, and cognitive test scores. These “candidate genes” were apparently a big deal, though within a few years the whole idea became almost entirely discredited.

Listen to what Ritchie writes concerning these highly touted scientific studies, some published in prestigious journals, about candidate genes: “Reading through the candidate gene literature is, in hindsight, a surreal experience: they were building a massive edifice of detailed studies on foundations that we now know to be completely false. As Scott Alexander of the blog Slate Star Codex put it: ‘This isn’t just an explorer coming back from the Orient and claiming there are unicorns there. It’s the explorer describing the life cycle of unicorns, what unicorns eat, all the different subspecies of unicorn, which cuts of unicorn meat are tastiest, and a blow-by-blow account of a wrestling match between unicorns and Bigfoot.’ ”6

A “massive edifice of detailed studies on foundations we now know to be completely false?” God alone knows how many other massive edifices of scientific studies have been, and are now, being conducted on foundations that we don’t yet know are false, and maybe never will (at least before the millennium). But what about the ones that we know are? How many detailed studies are being conducted based on the false premise that life evolved billions of years ago and that life was never preplanned, never consciously designed, and never orientated toward specific goals? The fact that your eyes see, ears hear, mouths taste, noses smell, and brains think is, to these studies, just the luck of the draw, that which aided in your survival, and nothing else. After all, science stands behind these findings, and woe to the foolish ones who dare hint that these things, from the structure of mitochondria to the processes that create consciousness, have been designed.

Unknown Unknowns

And if studies about what exists now—about what can be seen, felt, touched, X-rayed, dissected, and analyzed down to their atomic composition— can be so flimsy, what about the “massive edifice of detailed studies” on events that have, supposedly, occurred billions of years out of our reach? How many millions of Christians, who claim the Bible as the foundation of their beliefs, will compromise those beliefs—accepting such unproven theories as theistic evolution, or progressive creation—in obeisance to whatever proclamations are uttered in the name of science?

But compromise among Christians is nothing new. From the acceptance of Sunday instead of the biblical seventh day, to the worship of saints, Christianity has never successfully protected itself against culture. So why should it be any different today?

And though, of course, there are many diligent, hardworking, and honest scientists out there, as Ritchie’s book shows, there are also many who aren’t. And we don’t always know the difference. It’s yet another reason we shouldn’t fall under the spell of scientism, especially when some of its claims contradict any reasonable reading of the Word of God.

1 Stuart Ritchie, Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search For Truth (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2020).

2 Ibid., pp. 6, 7, Kindle edition.

3 Ibid., p. 42.

4 Ibid., p. 30.

5 Ibid., p. 34.

6 Ibid., p. 141.

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide and a longtime columnist for the Adventist Review.