AirTalk for February 22, 2011

The troubling trend of the "decline effect" in scientific research

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Bottles of prescription pills go through an automated packaging machine December 2, 2010 in a pharmacy plant in Willingboro, New Jersey.

A drug or medical procedure can only be proved effective if it’s tested over and over again. The so-called “test of replicability” lies at the very heart of modern science. This practice guards against subjectivity and aims at removing bias by the researcher. But for some time, science writers and observers have noticed a strange phenomenon when they look more closely at this process. It seems that the results of many experiments decrease and can’t be replicated over time. What’s going on here? Are scientists consciously or unconsciously weeding out results that don’t square with their theories? As part of KPCC’s 2-day series on medical and scientific research, Jonah Lehrer explains the “decline effect” and cautions us to be aware of the uncertainties of scientific research.

Guest:

Jonah Lehrer, author “The Truth Wears Off” from the December 13 issue of the New Yorker. He is also a contributing editor at Wired. He's also written for The New Yorker, Seed, Nature, and the New York Times and is a contributor to Radiolab. He's the author of Proust Was A Neuroscientist. His new book is How We Decide.


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