Should We Defend the Scientific Consensus?

By Neuroskeptic | November 30, 2016 1:11 pm

Earlier this week, Frontiers in Public Health published the abstract of a paper called ‘Vaccination and Health Outcomes: A Survey of 6- to 12-year-old Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Children based on Mothers’ Reports’. Based on an online survey of 415 mothers involved in the homeschool movement, Mississippi-based researchers Mawson et al. reported that vaccination is associated with a much higher rate of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.


Hoo boy.

The Mawson et al. paper led to a lot of controversy, not least on Twitter. On Monday, many people, myself included, tweeted concern over seeing such a piece in a peer-reviewed journal. Frontiers, the Swiss publisher of the journal in question, took to Twitter to say that the article “was provisionally accepted but not published” and that “In response to concerns raised, we have reopened its review.” Minutes later, the paper disappeared, and if you visit its URL now, you will find nothing but an error message. (Here’s a copy, though.)

untitledSo, mission accomplished? Is the removal of this paper a victory for good sense over the irrational theory of vaccine denial? Or is it, on the contrary, censorship of a brave dissenting voice?

I don’t think it’s either, really, but this case does raise interesting questions about how we judge science. Is it right to object to a paper just because its results fly in the face of most previous research?

Everyone agrees that it is fair to critique a study on the basis of the methods. And many people did criticize the methodology of the Mawson et al. study, pointing to serious problems such as the small sample size (relative to the huge studies showing vaccines are safe), the purely self-report measures, and the potential for recall and selection bias.

Yet I don’t think that so many people would have been so critical of Mawson et al.’s methods if it weren’t for the nature of their findings. Studies suffering from the same flaws, or worse, get published all the time across many fields. Twitter doesn’t explode over every bad study. So isn’t there a risk that scientists are selectively sceptical, scrutinizing studies that challenge the consensus?

On the other hand, it’s true that the scientific consensus exists for a reason. As I said in one of my first-ever posts, we should beware the myth of the Galileo-like lone scientist who turns out to be right while everyone else is wrong:

All of our most popular myths about science are Robin Hood stories – the hero is the underdog, the rebel, the maverick who stands up to authority… the hero is a denialist. Once, this was realistic. Galileo was an Aristotelean cosmology denier; Pasteur was a miasma theory denier; Einstein was a Newtonian physics denier. But these stories are out of date… Science has moved on since the time of Galileo, thanks to his efforts and those of they who came after him, but he is still invoked as a hero by those who deny scientific truth. He would be turning in his grave, in the earth which, as we now know, turns around the sun.

In fact, it’s fair to say that if we were to reject everything that challenges the scientific consensus, we would be right to reject them in the vast majority of cases. But however accurate the consensus is, science is not supposed to be a matter of consensus, but a process of observing the world. The only thing that should matter, in judging science, is the quality of those observations, i.e. the strength of the methodology.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: autism, papers, science, select, Top Posts, woo
  • cgs

    Consensus in science is misunderstood by many people. It invokes, to some, deals in smoke filled back rooms. To others, it just sounds like a crude type of scientific voting.

    The rallying call of many is that “science doesn’t work by consensus”.

    No, it doesn’t. But nonetheless consensus forms in scientific fields. It can’t be helped. After much research is performed consensus is a natural outcome IF most of this research points in a common direction.

    No scientist believes, or should believe, that consensus means correct. It just means our current understanding of the situation until such time as new research modifies and extends what we know.

    When you open an elementary text book in physics or chemistry and peruse the table of contents, you are looking at the consensus science that has formed over the lifetime of that field.

    • Juliska Magyar

      Not really. An elementary physics book is not science. It is an interpretation without citing references.

      Also ‘scientists’ is a meaningless term in science research. Other than a handfull who understand the minutia of a subject, their opinion has no weight.

      • cgs

        Thanks for the comment! However I disagree.

        When I open my elementary physics text book I see chapters devoted to the various conservation laws (energy, linear momentum, etc), on the four laws of thermodynamics, on Maxwell’s equations and etc. Though it is not explicitly stated, these are consensus positions.

        To examine one specifically, take the conservation of energy. Prior to Einstein, physicists believed this to be absolute. The weight of experimental evidence showed it to be true. My textbook states:

        This statement is a generalization from our experience, so far not contradicted by observation in nature. …Often in the history of physics this principle seemed to fail. But its apparent failure stimulated the search for the reasons. …Such reasons have always been found.

        Of course reasons were searched for (rather than immediately entertaining the notion that the conservation of energy had been falsified) because of the underlying faith in the fundamental principle.

        After Einstein, it was accepted that the real law was energy + mass is conserved, though in the vast, vast majority of cases, change in mass can be ignored. This is currently the consensus position and it will remain that way until nature says otherwise. And then the textbooks will have to be modified.

        We don’t think of these ideas as consensus positions because they have become ingrained into the fabric of the science. We are separated from the past effort (and perhaps debate) that occurred when these ideas were less sure.

  • Hilda Bastian

    I objected to it. But firstly, no article was published, I don’t think. There was only an abstract when I looked – plus some people complaining that there was no article. It was a highly controversial claim not backed up with anything at all, as near as I can see.

    Yes, there are lots of colossally biased articles, with absurd leaps to conclusions unsupported by data. But not all have serious social consequences. At a certain point, in a topic with serious known societal and personal harm (this is cruel, too), then a higher standard of proof begins to apply.

    There are grey zones of course: but that abstract didn’t get close to grey. It was Pandora’s box, with almost nothing there, & a major COI in authorship.

    That said, I don’t think anything of as inadequate quality as that appeared to be from its abstract, should be published by a reputable journal. And I think it’s a good example of the bar that a preprint server has to clear, with room to spare: irretrievably biased conclusions etc in a socially harmful context.

    • Windriven

      “At a certain point, in a topic with serious known societal and personal harm (this is cruel, too), then a higher standard of proof begins to apply.”

      A higher standard than what? There is good science and there is crappy science. There are clear results and there are ambiguous results. In my humble opinion the highest standard is the only standard worth discussing because anything less is really no standard at all.

      The article in question wouldn’t pass muster in a high school AP biology class.

      Based on an online survey of 415 mothers involved in the homeschool movement, Mississippi-based researchers Mawson et al. reported that vaccination is associated with a much higher rate of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

      How did this dog’s breakfast of inanity pass the laugh test of an editor not employed by The Onion?

      Science has a problem. Scientific journals are publishing crappy studies, non-replicable studies, studies with risible methodologies, all in the name of – well frankly, I have no idea what. Perhaps this is the price of not compensating peer reviewers. Perhaps it is the profit motivation of journal publishers. Perhaps it is the erosion of the understanding of what constitutes good science.

      Whatever the excuse, it serves none of us well.

      • Hilda Bastian

        I said that I don’t think anything of such poor quality should be published by a reputable journal. The discussion point as I understood it was separate from this specific paper: when is it reasonable to reject publication for something that challenges scientific consensus?

        The quote you’re pulling out goes to that second issue, not this specific paper. And I explicitly said that article didn’t even rise to consideration of that second issue, because of its poor quality.

        • Windriven

          Yes, it is your assertion that there are some situations in which a higher standard of ‘proof’ (by which I assume you mean evidence) should apply that I question. How and where would such a line be drawn. Who gets to decide?

          One of the great strengths of science is its independence from the arbitrary. Certainly, there are situations where more evidence would be demanded. But the issue you seem to raise regards the quality of the evidence.

          • Darby42164

            I tend to think that if we are doing our jobs as scientists, poor quality studies should not be published at all. If they are (and they are) what does that say about our profession? If this study was soundly done, thoroughly peer reviewed, yet against the consensus, I have no issues with it being published. But it is not well done, it should not be published and thus there is no public health effect. We need to clean up publishing I think, too much garbage is being accepted into journals.

          • cheomit

            I’d consider an alternative viewpoint, actually. I think there’s an entirely valid defence of low quality studies.

            In the case of a relatively novel, largely untested hypothesis, I think a low-quality study may be fine. When you’re not trying to prove something, but simply fishing for ideas, or trying to show something’s not entirely crazy and is worth spending more resources on, you might well start with a low quality study. If you can do a test that *proves* nothing but would at least rule out some obvious contradictions, well, why not? At least you fail fast (and cheap) if your hypothesis was fundamentally flawed; and you can justify a better study if it survives that preliminary testing.

            On the other hand, I think that once a body of knowledge has begun to form, the time for low quality studies has passed and journals should seriously consider the value of publishing less than rigorous experiments. Something like the study in question should probably never pass peer-review (or ethical approval, actually), because it lacks the power to cause even a minor Bayesian shift in the confidence attributed to the consensus viewpoint. Once you’ve got a solid body of good-quality studies, there’s no real way a low-quality study is going to have value – and I think that’s true even in the absence of a consensus!

  • joseph2237

    Was it a real study, paper, and conclusion? Now a days we have to be careful what we call real. We don’t know if it came could have been a Facebook news release.

    • Juliska Magyar

      Those who actually do research know the source of a scientific publication. They dont wake up one day and get into a particular field. There’s likely less than a dozen researchers in the world whose name means anything.

      If the Internet or some magazine publishes some piece, that’s not science. Thwt’s a debate about some social or culural issue.

      • AutismDadd

        Have you investigated Dr Andrew Wakefield et al and the medical report that has been called a Vaccine study by those who oppose a connection to autism? Pretty shoddy behavior by a General Medical Council that convicted him under an illusion of wrongdoing, invented by a non-medically educated writer named Brian Deer.

      • joseph2237

        True enough but would all readers know the difference and the science pros really don’t live outside the social sphere completely. Research funds always come with corp or gov oversight and that can lead to serious misunderstandings which could lead to false assertions in the press.

  • Victor Rivera

    One of my favorite scenes from my research methods class discussion section:

    Sarcastic student (who likely didn’t want to do a comprehensive literature review for our upcoming paper proposal) : “What if I come up with an idea so bold it’s never been thought of before?”

    Grad student: “Then you’ll probably be wrong.”


    • Uncle Al

      1915 – General Relativity assumes the Equivalence Principle. 1928 – Einstein, Cartan, Kibble, Sciama allow EP = False as chiral space-time torsion: Matter exists, dark matter is Milgrom acceleration, Chern-Simons correction of Einstein-Hilbert action is sourced, etc. Ignored.

      Unlike quantized gravitation and supersymmetry, one can look – arXiv:1207.2442, page 6/Fig. 2; page 7 /Fig. 3. Load the Eötvös balance with eight 5-gram single crystal alpha-quartz test masses. One vertical side is space group P3(1)21, the opposite side is P3(2)21, opposing 6.68×10^22 pairs of 9-atom opposite shoes. A net non-zero output shows general relativity is incomplete. Look! Is that BIG enough?

      • Thomas Lee Elifritz

        Error beep. Axions are particles.

  • joseph2237

    Scientist are in big trouble as it is, with the religious right now having control of three branches of gov. and gov. funding. Years of uncontrolled claims with feeble evidence and a collective aim of proving we don’t need a God that science is all we need isn’t going to fair well. The road of quantum particle physics has led to a universe that is based on grand illusion at an outrageous price that still isn’t finish consuming billions.

    • Juliska Magyar

      Not mine. There’s about 14 people in my field. 3 are American and the rest are non American. I have no idea why the religious right would be concerned about the polymers we develop. I”d assume many have stock in our company.

      • Darby42164

        Excellent! I have not had the religious right take issue with any of my cancer research and there are many people in my field.

  • Uncle Al

    The Dirac equation is astoundingly good for electrons, and covariant right out of the box. Otto Stern got a Nobel Prize/Physics for showing it horribly failed. Theory is no better than the next clever observation. That is why clever observations are now banned (“quantitative risk assessment”). What qualification does a rat in a maze have to dispute scholarship!

  • OWilson

    Folks who value consensus, are always in danger of running over the cliff with the rest of the lemmings.

    “But, Ma, everyone else has one…….” never, had currency in our modest household.

    If you look at markets, economics, or politics, consensus can be spectacularly wrong. President Trump, anyone?

    In a famous book about the gold market, the writer said, “When my Cabbie and my barber are telling me to buy gold, I know it is time to sell.”

    When a consensus forms over a predicted event, (say the primary cause of the weather in a 100 years) you are no longer looking at scientific proof but speculation.

    If you want to see how speculation in science worked out, just take a look at a 100 year old physics textbook.

    (Or even a current one, it is likely to be out of date by the time you read it.)

    My favorite that got me started, The Growth of Physical Science -Sir James Jeans 1929, had it all correct (Up to 1929) :)

    • Darby42164

      I think you are overstating consensus in science. When there is overwhelming support for a theory, for example relativity, then it is not surprising a “consensus” forms that this is correct as far as it goes. But that does not ignore that it doesn’t answer everything and thus the search for quantum gravity. I would agree if consensus is used to suppress research, then it is a problem. That might be happening with climate research and social sciences. It would seem weird indeed to say, “because everyone agrees relativity has considerable data to back it up, thus I disagree because it is a consensus”, then you are one bad scientist.

      • OWilson

        I’m not a scientist.

        We are talking about “consensus” which is a human characteristic.

        There has been consensus among scientists, since before they were called, Natural Philosophers :)

        It is only a human weakness to express hubris that this particular current consensus is more accurate than all the others that went before.

        In this fallacy, you are in good company with the “conventional wisdom”, and can be excused! :)

        • Thomas Lee Elifritz

          Quantum mechanics is a consensus.

          Thus, you can flaunt your stupidity on the internet.

          • OWilson

            So was President Hillary.

            Some consensus’ are valid.

            Others are not!

            A wise man can tell the difference.

            He is not likely to be wandering around the streets rioting or looking for a group hug, because he could tell the difference! :)

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            A wise scientist and engineer presents evidence to back up his or her claims. You have not done that.

            Ergo, you either are not wise or you are not a scientist or engineer. I’m wandering around the internet reading professional science papers.

            Looking for evidence. In your case I have only found evidence for both ignorance and stupidity.

          • OWilson

            Then it’s time to move on, Einstein.

            I’m done with you here! :)

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            And if I decline? What’s your plan B?

            You know, American freedoms and all that.

          • OWilson

            You’ll have to check this thread to see if I do or not. I won’t!

            Love making work for trolls!

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            I get disqus alerts.

            But that sounds like a productive and honorable endeavor for a Donald Trump scientific crank.

          • OWilson

            I never knew that!

            Thanks for finally providing one solitary morsel of useful information in you rambling, dissembling, and insulting posts.

            I gave you a sorely needed uptick for that! :)

            By the way, I’m Canadian, so I had nothing to do with Trump.

            I would blame Obama/Hillary and their lyin’ media for the rise of Trump!

            I chimed in to try and save the dupes from all the misinformation and their arrogant “consensus”.

            It didn’t work, never does with true believers. Human nature. They’ll soon find another to lean on!

            Ah well, no mi problema.

            Adios amigo!

    • Thomas Guiot

      It is a very simplistic approach. That multiple things can be called “consensus” doesn’t mean they are exactly the same thing. In particular, the way the consensus formed makes all the difference.
      In science, consensus is like an emergent concept that naturally arises from the weight of the evidence. When there is solid, independent and numerous evidence on a particular subject, it’s likely that a consensus will form eventually.

      I think it’s important to make a distinction between the word “consensus” in its general usage and the “scientific consensus” (much like the “theory” vs “scientific theory” which have very different meanings).

      • OWilson

        I suppose it depends on what “is” is!

        Welcome to 1984!

      • On Its Own Merits
        • Ron Roy

          Bull! Today’s science ( in the case of drugs and vaccines ) is bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry. The conduct studies in such a way the they will arrive at a predetermined outcome. 35 drugs have been removed from the marketplace in the lat few years yet all had supposedly passed rigorous testing and had been approved by the FDA. Whoever pays the fiddler calls the tune.

          • Thomas Guiot

            Why do you think they were removed? Because they were still being monitored and scientifically investigated. The Phase I/II/III clinical trials are sometimes not enough to provide a complete picture of the effectiveness and safety of a molecule, that’s why the phase IV exists. If it wasn’t there, those drugs would simply have stayed on the market.
            But what does that tell you for those that *haven’t* been removed? And what is your evidence for your ignorant accusations?

          • Ron Roy

            Below are the 35 drugs we could find that have been recalled from the US
            market since the 1970s, some that had been in use since the 1930s. A
            sample of advertisements for only some of the drugs are included because
            there is a scarcity of ads for withdrawn drugs online due to
            manufacturers removing ads for withdrawn drugs as part of the agreement
            to no longer market the drugs.So you admit people were used as Guinea pigs. Oh some of these drugs had been on the market for decades. The link can be found under:

          • Thomas Guiot

            I don’t see what your point is. Do we test drugs before marketing them? Yes, it’s a legal obligation to demonstrate efficacy and safety (although the legislation has evolved over the years). Do we need patients to test them? Well, yes, that’s the whole point of testing. Do we monitor marketed drugs after they have been approved? Yes, that allows us to detect rare but important side effects that could not be detected in Phase I, II, and III trials. Does that result sometimes in the removal of drugs from the market? Yes, and that’s a very good thing. That proves that the system works and is capable of auto-correcting. Do you know of any other human activities capable of acknowledging mistakes and correct them?
            Also the term “guinea pigs” is kind of insulting for the patients. I’m guessing you know absolutely nothing of the regulation of clinical trials.

          • Ron Roy

            The human body wasn’t made to function on drugs. Over three hundred thousand people per year die, in the US, because of properly and improperly prescribed drugs and medical intervention. Now if we take into consideration that only 10% of all doctors report adverse events that 300,000 should be multiplied by ten. If doctors practiced healthcare instead of disease care we’d all be better off. But unfortunately big pharm wouldn’t stand for that. And YES people are being used as Guinea pigs.

          • Thomas Guiot

            “Over three hundred thousand people per year die, in the US, because of
            properly and improperly prescribed drugs and medical intervention.”
            How do you know that?

          • Ron Roy

            It’s a chilling reality – one often overlooked in annual mortality
            statistics: Preventable medical errors persist as the No. 3 killer in
            the U.S. – third only to heart disease and cancer – claiming the lives
            of some 400,000 people
            each year. At a Senate hearing Thursday, patient safety officials put
            their best ideas forward on how to solve the crisis, with IT often at
            the center of discussions.

            Hearing members, who spoke before the Subcommittee on Primary Health
            and Aging, not only underscored the devastating loss of human life –
            more than 1,000 people each day – but also called attention to the fact
            that these medical errors cost the nation a colossal $1 trillion each year.

            “The tragedy that we’re talking about here (is) deaths taking place
            that should not be taking place,” said subcommittee Chair Sen. Bernie
            Sanders, I-Vt., in his opening remarks.

          • AutismDadd

            Can’t be solved with medical consensus impeding it.

          • Thomas Guiot

            Interesting, thanks for the reference. There are many things to say about this, but the first thing I wanted to point out is that we’re talking about preventable adverse events. The key word here is preventable. We’re not talking about the science of medicine per se, we’re talking about when it’s wrongly applied, about mistakes. This is not a flaw of medicine, but a flaw of humans wrongly applying medicine.

            Would you agree on that?

          • JGC

            How many people survive each year because of properly prescribed drugs and medical interventions, Ron? How many of the people who died this year would have instead died of illness and injury prior to this year in the absence of medical intervention?

            One cannot assess the harms versus benefits of drugs or other medical interventions by looking only at the list of harms.

          • Ron Roy

            A few years ago I remember reading that when doctors went on strike in Canada the County of Los Angeles and all of Italy the death rate dropped substantially. Does that answer your question?

          • JGC

            No, it doesn’t. I need actual numbers, and their source.

          • Ron Roy

            Whenever medical doctors go on strike, a
            most interesting phenomenon occurs – death rates go down! In 1976 in
            Bogota, Columbia medical doctors went on strike for 52 days, with only
            emergency care available. The death rate dropped by 35%. In 1976 in Los
            Angeles County a similar doctors’ strike resulted in an 18% drop in
            mortality. As soon as the strike was over, the death rate went back to
            normal. A 50% decrease in mortality occurred in Israel in 1973 when
            there was a one month doctor’s strike!
            Alternative cancer treatment authority,
            Dr. Ralph Moss, notes that a 1999 article in The Journal of The American
            Medical Association stated that prescription drugs kill over 100,000
            people per year in U. S. hospitals. The F.D.A. noted that back in 1978
            1.5 million Americans were hospitalized as a result of taking medical
            drugs. One in seven hospital beds is taken up by patients suffering from
            adverse drug reactions. The General Accounting Office stated that 51.5%
            of all drugs introduced between 1976 and 1985 had to be relabelled
            because of serious adverse reactions found after the marketing of these
            drugs – reactions like heart, liver or kidney failure, birth defects,
            blood disorders, respiratory arrest, seizures, and blindness.

            Most people are not aware that drugs
            companies spend thousands of dollars per year on each medical doctor
            “selling” them on using their particular products. Drug companies hire
            “detail men” to visit physicians’ offices and give them drug samples.
            These salesmen, who are not doctors and have no medical or
            pharmacological training, tell your medical doctor what drugs to use for
            what problems. Drug companies start this process early by offering
            medical students gifts, free trips to “conferences,” and free
            “educational material,” which translated means propaganda on that drug
            company’s products. In Australia drug companies spend an average of
            $10,000 per year per physician marketing their products. The result of
            all of this is a massive overprescribing of drugs.

            The drug companies don’t stop with just
            practicing M.D.s, though, but also direct major dollars toward
            hospitals, medical schools and supposedly “independent” research
            institutes. Medical schools, for example, are given grants for clinical
            trials, pharmaceutical research, or even buildings. These companies have
            sought to gain massive influence over medical teaching institutions by
            spreading their money around. Dr. Alan Levin, Adjunct Associate
            Professor of Immunology and Dermatology at the University of California

            Pharmaceutical companies, by enlisting
            the aid of influential academic physicians, have gained control of the
            practice of medicine in the United States. They now set the standards of
            practice by hiring investigators to perform studies which establish the
            efficacy of their products or impugn that of their competitors. . .

          • Jonathan Graham

            Whenever medical doctors go on strike, a most interesting phenomenon occurs – death rates go down! In 1976 in Bogota, Columbia medical doctors went on strike for 52 days, with only emergency care available. The death rate dropped by 35%. In 1976 in Los Angeles County a similar doctors’ strike resulted in an 18% drop in mortality. As soon as the strike was over, the death rate went back to normal. A 50% decrease in mortality occurred in Israel in 1973 when
            there was a one month doctor’s strike!

            What’s more interesting is how people with such low abilities at math survive in a modern world.

            See a) you’ve cited exactly three cases without looking at the overall number of strikes. So you have nothing to compare to for all you know MOST of the time death rates increase during doctors strikes b) unless you know the variance in each of these values you still can’t extract anything meaningful and of course – for all you know the mortality
            c) At least one of them is an interval which is far to short and actually argues against your point.

          • FallsAngel

            Here’s an interesting article about striking doctors. It seems that striking nurses cause more problems!

            Here’s another:
            “During the months of the strike, patients “have been going more to their family doctor and to hospital emergency rooms, which have not been affected by sanctions,” Professor Yisraeli said.”

          • AutismDadd

            Would they be FDA approved too?

          • JGC

            Ron, if studies are only conducted in such a way that “they will arrive at a predetermined outcome”, how come the majority of all new drug entities entering pre-clinical and phase 1,2 and 3 clinical testing fail somewhere along the line prior to being approved? Only about 10 to 20% of all NDE’s filed reach the market.

          • Ron Roy

            Can you imagine how really bad the 80 or 90% were since those approved caused more harm than good. In 2012 the top 11 drug companies made 85 billion in net profits. I was going to list as many drugs as I cold that were removed from the market, and all their side effects, but I only have another 20 or 30 more years to live and I wouldn’t have the time to finish.

          • JGC

            The 80% which fail will not have all failed because they were “really bad” or harmful: most NDE’s fail because they fail to demonstrate sufficient efficacy.

            And if as you claim studies are only conducted in such a way that “they will arrive at a predetermined outcome” none would ever have been found to be unsafe or ineffective, would they?

            As for those that were approved doing more harm than good, you’ve offered to date exactly zero evidence this is the case.

          • Laroxe

            To be fair there have been a number of court cases where drug companies have been found to have hidden research the detail harm. The amount these companies were fined while looking impressive, pales into insignificance when compared to the profits made. Several of these were related to antidepressants but I have heard of other drugs.
            This isn’t to say this is what happens across the board but any study funded by the company must always be treated as having a significant source of bias. Oh, in the case of Sertraline this was associated with causing deaths.

          • Jonathan Graham

            Bull! Today’s science ( in the case of drugs and vaccines ) is bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry. The conduct studies in such a way the they will arrive at a predetermined outcome. Which is probably just something you made up. Cancer treatments for example only show efficacy 40% of the time[1] and overall a treatment only successfully completes phase three trials about 5% of the time[2]


  • polistra24

    This misses the point. PUBLISHING is not harmful. USING a “scientific” result for governmental purposes can be harmful. When people are forced to take actions against their will, or deprived of property or liberty, the government should have a SOLID factual reason. With vaccination the solid factual reason is there, proved by 200 years of actual experience outside academia. With “global warming” there is no factual basis at all, only a completely disproved bad theory rigged by intentional corruption of peer review.

    • Ricardo Vieira

      Even if climate change was a hoax, what would we have to lose from following along with ecological policies? Less deforestation? Less deserts? Less chimneys? Less plastic bags and cans laying around in the streets? Less people with premature deaths due to hazardous jobs such as coal mining? The gains in public transportation infrastructure, health and technology research, building efficiency, etc. seem to be pretty good even in the absence of a global climate threat. I don’t understand why are people so upset with climate change policies.

      • OWilson

        The U.N. is demanding re-distribution of wealth from the Industrial West to the third world.

        They are demanding $1,500,000,000.00 per year alone for third world tin pot genocidal dictator Robert Mugabe, in reparations for “climate distress”, and he’s just the first at the trough.

        You OK with that?

        (Remember you are $20,000,000,000,000.00 in debt, and counting)

        • Thomas Lee Elifritz

          Woo woo. You;re a crank.

          • OWilson

            The poster asks, what do we have to lose with the hoax?

            I gave just one example, but I’ll give you another.

            The 3 largest solar energy companies in the world, Solyndra, ABEGOA and Sun Edison, have gone bankrupt or filed, and between them have taken some $25,000,000,000.00 of your taxpayer borrowed National Debt money with them.

            Where did this money go?

            Nobody even asks! It’s just not PC to actually doubt their good corporate intentions. :)

            And we haven’t even scratched the surface of this giant Ponzi scheme.

            You are a dupe!

            This money is borrowed in the name of your grandchildren and can never be paid back.

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            And yet solar and wind power is still rapidly approach and will soon be lower than fossil fuel energy conversion costs. And that 0.7 Watts per square meter continuous top of the atmosphere energy imbalance caused by carbon dioxide emissions and 400 ppm atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration still remains. That is so freakin weird. It just won’t go away as much as you nutjobs wish it would or deny that it exists.

            And it so weird how solar and wind cut into those emissions and reduce the cost of energy for you.

          • OWilson

            I presume that we will have an alternative to cheap fossil fuel energy, to power our modern, technically progressive world when Al Gore, Heinz-Kerry, Obama, Lady Ga Ga, Michael Moore, and Leonardo di Caprio no longer use it to fuel their Jet planes, yachts, ocean front homes, mansions and palaces, their limousines, tour buses, and the rest of their toys.

            When your High Priests, figure it out, get back to us ya hear?

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            There are lots of alternatives. Liquid hydrogen and oxygen are some of my favorite fuels.

            Energy is not cheap in a universe subject to irreversible thermodynamics. It only was cheap because you have been exploiting carbon based fuels that represent hundreds of million of years of stored solar energy, energy stored by plants.

            It would help greatly if you knew a little science. The universe has been very generous in providing you with some laws of physics that you can exploit through science and intelligence. What you need to do is start exercising that intelligence which the universe has provided you. That’s because solutions exist, and only science can help you find them.

          • OWilson

            Mother Nature doesn’t have fevers, and the Universe is not “generous”

            Right now she may be aiming a mile wide asteroid at your house, a flood, a tornado, an earthquake, a volcano, a hurricane, a drought, a tsunami, or some deadly infectious disease.

            Go hug a tree, she don’t care and would just as easily have it fall on you! :)

            My carbon footprint is negligible compared to your Dear Leaders listed above.

            You are lecturing the wrong people :)

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            My maple trees and backyard garden with its rich dark soil tell me a completely different story, sorry.

            Sure, terrestrial planets with molten cores, plate tectonics, abundant water and lots of life in a long lived stable climate are difficult to come by and present certain challenges.for those smart apes.

            But smart apes can confront that with science.

            And get this, science works, beeech, Stupidity doesn’t work, stupid. So get out there and find those asteroids. Lamar Smith and his idiotic launch vehicle aren’t helping you out there much.

          • OWilson

            Neither is Obama who is bumming a ride to the Space Station for his NASA astronauts. :)

            From that very same Russian KGB Putin guy, who 17 of his own Intelligence Agencies say is hacking National Security, and fixing American elections.

            If you wanna talk about stupid! :)

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            I guess you missed that Bush cancelled the space shuttle. Do you actually think that Ares I was ever going to fly into space with an Orion capsule that isn’t even finished after 11 years? Bush’s Ares I?

            Like I said, it’s futile to discuss subjects with someone who isn’t competent to comment.

          • OWilson

            You must enjoy wasting time :)

            Blaming Bush is getting very, very, old.

            Don’t work anymore!

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            Since I am a free American, it’s my time to waste and I am free to waste it if I choose to waste it.

            What is your problem with American freedom again? Is your cave not comfortable enough? Do your goats and wives not obey your every command?

          • OWilson

            Enjoy your life!

            Adios amigo!

          • Marshall Gill

            You have to actually pay taxes for the government to piss away your tax dollars. Those who don’t mind government waste are usually on the receiving end.

          • OWilson


            When governments spend money they don’t have now, they just write their cheques on the unborn.

            They themselves and the current recipients of this false largess will be long dead before the bills become due.

            Classic definition of a Ponzi scheme, and also very unconstitutional!

            It used to be called, “Taxation Without Representation”.

            Your founding fathers warned y’all about it!

      • Juliska Magyar

        Not to get into global warming, but the term ‘science’ should be banned from both sides of the debate. Climatology has become an agenda driven bastardization of ‘science’.

        • OWilson

          Climatology is to physics, what astrology is to astronomy, and chiropractic is to medicine.

          They all rely on unquestioning belief! :)

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            If you say that over and over to yourself, sooner or later people just as ignorant as you might believe it.

          • OWilson

            Unfortunately you are wrong!

            True believers tend to take their convictions to the grave, (which happens with unusual regularity).

            Darwinism is good! :)

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            American fascists think threats are good.

            Scientists think that claims backed up by evidence are good. The only thing you present to me here is a nutty claim backed up by no evidence at all, and then when you are confronted with your absence of evidence by a scientist, you resort to threats.

          • OWilson

            Have a nice day!

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            I always do. The Castle Doctrine and Charles Darwin are my friends.

            We hang out together in my home. With Grandma.

          • On Its Own Merits
        • Thomas Lee Elifritz

          That’s right, there is always only two sides. Country and Western.

          Perhaps in your case dictionary expungement of ‘science’ is necessary.

      • champ

        Because of the cost of the remedies to global warming are so out of proportion to the purported problem…

      • JGC
  • Duane

    What a stupid essay and stupid question to pose! Nothing should ever be “censored” in science, or in any other realm, period, end of story. Everything should be subject to scrutiny and criticism, in science, and in everything else.

    If the paper was not worthy of publication because the science was poor – it certainly sounds poor, from the description of their methods – then it should not be published in a respectable, peer reviewed publication. If the science was sound, regardless of the conclusions, then yes, it should be published and subjected to scrutiny and criticism.

    • bezotch

      I think the problem that arises is that in the internet age there has been a proliferation of “scientific journals” many of which have few or no standards on what gets published. Neither the public nor the media (not just internet media, the mainstream media as well) notes any distinction in the quality of the journal. Junk science in a pay-to-publish journal is elevated to the same status as rigorously reviewed science published in a high quality journal.

      We are left with a choice: A system where disinformation is allowed to flourish, or alternatively, some system of accreditation, which will inevitably lead to gatekeepers determining what is information. Neither alternative is palatable.

      • Duane

        It’s no choice at all … as I wrote above, NEVER CENSOR. If stupid fake science gets published in stupid journals, eventually the truth will out and those who run stupid journals will look stupid and soon be out of business.

        Information must be free, period, always.

        • OWilson

          I would agree, but qualify your statement.

          Research data belongs to those who finance it. It is intellectual property.

          But since the primary engine of science is government funding, all publicly funded data should be open and transparent to the taxpayer, with an exception for national security considerations.

          Also any privately funded research and data used to form or affect government policy, also belongs to the taxpayer, and should be open,

        • Darby42164

          If stupid fake science is being published in what is reportedly a scientific journal, then we are no longer doing science and just writing opinion pieces, no matter the data. Anything classified as a scientific journal should adhere to proper scientific research protocols, otherwise it should be published in some other appropriate opinion newspaper or whatever.

    • champ

      have you heard of the Ignobel Awards? Those papers were all published in peer-reviewed journals…

    • Neuroskeptic

      “What a stupid essay and stupid question to pose! Nothing should ever be “censored” in science, or in any other realm, period, end of story. Everything should be subject to scrutiny and criticism, in science, and in everything else.”

      Of course. In theory. But in practice people don’t have time to scrutinize and criticize everything equally. We have to prioritize, or triage if you will, we have to find some way to decide which papers are most in need of scrutiny. Now, it seems to me that papers that report unexpected results tend to get prioritized for scrutiny. Is that right or wrong? I don’t think it’s easy to say.

      • Thomas Guiot

        I think it’s fair. The bloggers at Science-Based Medicine try to promote a science-based rather than purely evidence-based approach. The difference lies mostly in the addition of the Bayesian prior probability concept. If something contradicts very well established scientific concepts, it should be scrutinized more.

  • june conway beeby

    Scientific consensus is often much too slow to re-examine its own decisions. The most reported example of mistake was its credo that ulcers were caused by psychological effects. But one scientist uncovered proof of a biological cause stomach bacteria, and eventually received the Nobel Prize for this medical discovery.
    Initially his research results were not accepted by medical professions. But he was so sure of the truth he had uncovered he drank a mixture of his offending bacteria and became very ill with ulcers, ,End of story, his experiences were published years later and he was vindicated. That’s how the public were informed of the true biological, medical nature of ulcers. Still many professionals refused to believe the most recent research. Some even continued treating patients the old psychiatric causation as fact.
    I am interested in this great, long lag of re-thinking old theories for decades. Example: Even though recent scientific research has found that brain infections are caused by brain microbes this finding is not promptly followed up by massive brain research.
    This is a way to prevent the suffering of schizophrenia, depression and the myriad of these brain diseases around the world. Not only that, but it would reduce a major expense in current treatment and care if and when we abolish these diseases to the medical history library.


    • Justin P

      This represents the difference between Popper and Kuhn.
      Consensus science is Kuhnian in nature…it takes a long time for “paradigms” to shift when they are wrong. Because older “established” scientists are reluctant to change their views, in a lot of ways because their reputation is staked to those old, wrong views. Paradigms take years to change but they eventually do.
      The issue with the Kuhnian view is that in the meantime, during a paradigm transition, people can and do suffer from bad science. Your example and the whole Fat dietary guidelines are perfect examples of how bad science leads to bad outcomes because scientists had personal stakes in keeping the bad science in place.

      Scientists are not perfect, they are human. They might want to project an aura of enlightened truth seekers. But in reality they are concerned with their reputation and funding first and foremost…just like everyone else. Hence why they are reluctant to switch paradigms.

      • Darby42164

        This is the essence of some problems we have in research. They are not big problems, but they can slow down new scientific understanding. But even if it didn’t impede, changing consensus takes time because the research takes time. It took Einstein about 10 years to get his theories accepted as “consensus” and this was because it took about that long to satisfactorily verify his theories experimentally.

  • Kirby Mahard

    Science is such a mess right now that I expect it all to come crashing down soon. Kind of like the subprime mortgage problem led to the financial crisis. It has to be rebuilt on stronger foundations.

    • Juliska Magyar

      Why? Technology based on science is booming. What device are you using reading this website? Use electricity? Did you have to to out and kill your breakfast? Use a cell phone lately?

      Science is self weeding. Quantum mechanics and General Relativity are proven when a GPS is accurate. The same device disproves Newtonian Physics. Crop yields will decline or decrease with genetic engineering. The particulars of science research get played out in the real world.

      • Olmy Olm

        Yes, all of those things have been accomplished using the scientific method and the scientific spirit of inquiry. But you’re conflating the scientific method with science as an institution and with the state of scientists right now. Let’s just say they are not a little dogmatic, for the most part. ( )

        General relativity? Well, if you ignore the whole dark matter problem. So either it’s wrong or needs to be updated *significantly*.

        Oh and did you know that the constant G isn’t even a constant?

        “The particulars of science research get played out in the real world.”

        You’re right about that. People are more depressed, more anxious, more desperate, less connected, more nihilistic and isolated than they ever were. All the while “scientific” psychiatry keeps focusing on biology and completely missing the point. Or perhaps making things even worse:

        Science is no more “self weeding” than anything else. Ideally, it would be. But scientists are people and the exact same emotionality is involved as in politics or any other field. It takes active weeding from actual individuals to change anything. Those who are committed to a view use political tactics to keep themselves in power and their view entrenched. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Max Planck, of all people, said that “science changes one funeral at a time.”

        P.S.: Have I mentioned the fact that most published findings are probably false?

        • Juliska Magyar

          What is the state of science. .. my own discipline had 1 Asian participant 30 years ago…now they dominate.

    • Thomas Lee Elifritz

      And then suddenly your computer will stop working, right?

  • Kirby Mahard

    Just in the news: Man in the Netherlands euthanised for “alcoholism”:

    If he didn’t believe that alcoholism was a “chronic brain disease” (which it isn’t), he would never have done this.

    Who told him that he had a chronic brain disease? Who made that up in the first place?

    This is what contemporary science leads to.

  • José E. Burgos

    I would also question the scientific character of mothers’ reports, as they seem to me to fail most if not all criteria for scientificity. Such reports are too casual, unsystematic, whimsical, subjective, and uncontrolled to be admissible as scientific evidence.

  • Juliska Magyar

    99.9% of science has nothing to do with popular topics than involves controversy. Research is peered review.

    In 41 years I have never been involved in any research that depended on or gave a hoot about ‘consensus’. The very idea is the antithesis of scientific methodology.

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  • Jewels Vern

    Consensus says the sun is powered by fusion. That implies that it’s hotter on the inside than the outside, and the reverse is known to be true. Nevertheless, scientists only shout insults at anybody who points that out. They flatly refuse to admit that their theory has been disproved by their own observations.

    • Neuroskeptic

      I think they refuse because they’re right, in this case.

      • TLongmire

        What about the fact that scientific consensus states that telepathy doesn’t exist? Surely you are aware enough to have observed circumstances where in the moment it is undeniable right? Minds entangle with minds, but doubts keep us close.

  • Josh Mazer

    OK- so this particular study purporting to compare a range of health of health outcomes in fully vaccinated populations compared to never vaccinated populations might have been a poor study, of flaws design, with poor controls.

    Can someone please reference a properly conducted, peer reviewed, consensus accepted study that compares a range of health outcomes in fully vaccinated populations compared to never vaccinated ones?

    The concept of conducting such a study, in a scientifically rigorous manner, certainly makes sense.

    • Marshall Gill

      “Can someone please reference a properly conducted, peer reviewed,
      consensus accepted study that compares a range of health outcomes in
      fully vaccinated populations compared to never vaccinated ones?”

      The science is settleeddddd!!!!!!!!! No need for any study, vaccines are so safe that you can’t even sue their makers!

      • Laroxe

        I really don’t know where the idea of the science being settled comes from or that vaccines are always
        safe, as with any medical intervention decisions are made on the basis of risk. The commonly used vaccines offer very real advantages for very little risk. There are lots of other vaccines available which are only used in specific situations because the risk vs
        benefit is less favourable. The first link discusses issues in vaccine safety. You were asking about studies comparing vaccinated vs unvaccinated population, remember these studies have a built in bias,
        they are conducted in situations where the major threat to health, the actual disease, is controlled. However the 2nd link is about differences in health outcomes. The final one looks at some of the bias in studies and also links to more evidence from large well conducted studies.

    • Darby42164

      While not my field, I believe there is considerable research that addresses the question you pose. I have no issues with doing a study on this topic as long as it follows appropriate scientific research protocols. If done in that way it would not be a “poor” study, even if it went against the consensus. But this appears to simply be a poorly done study, so it should be printed in a scientific journal until the methodological problems have been addressed.

    • Neuroskeptic

      Such a study would be problematic. People who receive no vaccines at all are an unusual, self-selected minority and almost certainly differ from the vaccinated majority in many ways. No-one goes unvaccinated by random chance. There is no place (in the developed world) where if you get born there, you don’t get any vaccines. On the contrary it is always a selective choice (of your parents, in most cases.)

      On the other hand we can study the effects of specific vaccines and vaccine schedules, because exposure to these differs across time and space (e.g. as new vaccines are introduced, or across juristictions) in ways that aren’t selective based on the characteristics of the individuals. So these studies provide ‘natural experiments’.

  • Josh Mazer

    Here is an available population of never vaccinated people to assess, so no ethical concerns about withholding vaccines.

    I would note that there is no twitter outcry against this article, despite the sample size being smaller than the Frontiers study that is being criticized:

    “Out of 350 participants 40 (11.4 %) declared that they deliberately refused vaccinations. Most common reasons for non-vaccination were fear of adverse effects (35.9 %), doubt of effectiveness of vaccines (35.9 %) and distrust towards the pharmaceutical industry (23.1 %). Of all 350 participants only 148 (42.3 %) thought themselves to be sufficiently informed about national vaccination recommendations as stated in the Austrian National Vaccination Program (ANVP). General practitioners (GP) were the primary source of healthcare-related information for 256 (73.1 %) participants. Furthermore, GPs as well as hospital-based physicians achieved the highest level of trust in this study population.”

    • Neuroskeptic

      The sample size is smaller, but the methods are not flawed (except the “11.4 % declared that they deliberately refused vaccination” result, which is a self-report of a historical fact, and thus prone to recall bias.)

    • cheomit

      You do realise that there’s not some magic number for “sample size” that makes a study valid or invalid, right? The sample size necessary to test a hypothesis depends on a number of factors, including the subtlety of the effect you’re looking for, the number of variables you’re measuring, and the objectivity of the outcomes.

      If you want to test the hypothesis “use of a parachute reduces the risk of death when falling out of a plane”, ten subjects (5 test, 5 control) would probably be an *excessive* sample size. The endpoint (death) is pretty much the ultimate in objective measures; the effect size is enormous (near 100% fatal vs. near 100% survival); and you’re measuring one thing (dead vs alive).

      But now, let’s say you want to look at renal failure as a side effect of your new drug, cardiofix. It’s a long-term test (because it’s probably not causing renal failure with the first dose). There’s background noise to account for (people have renal failure without cardiofix). There are different ways your kidneys can go wrong (so you might be measuring multiple things). The endpoint is at least a little subjective (the judgement call on where to draw the line between renal impairment and renal failure, for example, might differ from one doctor to the next). And it’s probably a rare event (you’d hope that a drug that causes high rates of renal failure would have been eliminated in early studies). So you might need tens of thousands of subjects in order to answer the question in a valid way!

      Choosing an appropriate sample size, sufficient to answer the question your study is attempting to address, is a critical part of experimental design (and one that far too few researchers – and ethics committees – seem to properly appreciate).

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  • AutismDadd

    Typical response to any information threatening medical consensus. Parents the world over would be outraged and vaccine uptake would be affected. Governments don’t want their HERDS acting or thinking as individuals so they protect the reputation of vaccines through any method, including misinformation and scientific fraud.

  • ADM64

    I think the issue of consensus is inherently phony and dangerous. Whenever someone – and especially another scientist – raises legitimate questions or points that dispute a prevailing theory, the first thing anyone should do is look at his evidence and engage it. If it is wrong, it is wrong. If it is true, or at least seems to have evidence behind it, then the inquiry should be taken further. The objective is to find the truth, which means the most accurate description of the physical reality, not to reach a consensus. Einstein himself pointed this out when his conclusions were rejected by 100 Nazi-sponsored state scientists, “If I’d been wrong, one scientist would have been enough.”

    What gets people’s backs up on the consensus argument, is that it is really just an argument from authority in which all too often the consensus response amounts to “Shut up.” In my experience, as a professional engineer, there are few complicated concepts that can’t be explained in layman’s terms, and when dealing with clients who are not technically savvy, I have no choice but to engage and answer their questions, many of which are frequently perceptive. They are not stupid and quite reasonably, they expect an answer. If they seek a second opinion from another engineer, he would not say, “My colleague speaks for the consensus of the engineering community so I must stand with him and it.” I’d be obliged to explain myself and support my position with evidence. This is not happening on many “hot” and politically sensitive topics in science now. And the history of science is that people are sensitive to their funding sources and to, emotionally, clinging to their own theories. Anyone in either pure or applied science needs to be aware of this and to simply stick, as best they can, to a dispassionate defense of the truth.

    • Thomas Lee Elifritz

      You understand quantum mechanics, right? Since you are an engineer? You understand that quantum mechanics lets you comment with text messages using a supercomputer over a wideband global communications network, right? Or wrong?

      Express quantum mechanic to me in layman’s terms. Thanks.

      I mean, who needs mathematics, right?

    • cheomit

      Perhaps the issue is how you’re looking at consensus. I think it *is* an argument from authority, but arguments from authority can be justified.

      If “consensus” is being used to skew what *conclusions* get published (as opposed to quality control over methodology); what research gets funded; who gets promoted; etc. that’s a problem. Using consensus to quash dissent among peers would be terrible. But I’d love you to point out where that’s happening as a *routine* thing (sure, maybe some individuals behave badly and tell their colleagues to “shut up, nobody agrees with you”, but I can’t say I’ve seen any such thing happening culturally in a scientific field).

      On the other hand, pointing to a consensus *should be* a powerfully persuasive argument when you’re talking to people *outside* the field in question. I’m a scientist, but I’m not a physicist, so I would be wise to – at least provisionally – accept that most physicists probably have a decent idea about what they’re doing, and I should be *very* wary of thinking they’re all mistaken about some thing or other. There’s nothing wrong with entertaining a viewpoint held by a minority of physicists, but if you lack expertise it wouldn’t be very reasonable to assume you know better than the majority. Certainly, the minority *must* be proven right occasionally – most revolutionary ideas come originally from a single person or small group – but that doesn’t mean we should rationally *ever* side with the minority opinion, because far more often than not it will be wrong (as *most* new ideas are).

  • Ole Jørgen Nordhagen

    LOL! If anyone can try to replicate the study using a similar sample but not by self-reporting, you might get a clearer picture. Self-reporting from obvious biased parents is NOT a good method. But only a fair re-sampling can make the case. Cheers!

  • Laroxe

    I’m not sure that the term consensus is even useful, we are talking about the weight of evidence, rather than a collective belief. The danger with a consensus is that in itself it can introduce bias to any future work, it can make ideas difficult to challenge.
    It entirely right that work that goes against the weight of evidence needs to be subject to much closer inspection and the old adage that extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence, still applies.
    The issue with the vaccine study is not really in its data, it is how this data was collected and interpreted. The real mystery is in how it was ever considered for publication in the first place.The researchers seemed to give meaning to their very poor quality data that bordered on fantasy.

    • OWilson

      “The issue with the ……. study is not really in its data, it is how this data was collected and interpreted. The real mystery is in how it was ever considered for publication in the first place.The researchers seemed to give meaning to their very poor quality data that bordered on fantasy”.

      A brilliant observation!

      Let’s just suppose that Academia, MSM, Government employees, and their appointed Heads of Agencies such as NOAA and NASA, were overwhelmingly supporting a particular political party which had, as policy, a strong belief in AGW.

      Would it be wrong to question the possibility of bias, and even conflict of interest, of those very same folks who are “collecting, interpreting and publishing the data” ?

      • Thomas Lee Elifritz

        Itss futile to question science you know nothing about.

        When a skeptic argues science with scientists, it’s a lot more effective when the skeptic has a fundamental understanding of the science he is trying to refute, and actually presents some credible evidence to back up claims.

        You possess none of those abilities and characteristics.

        • OWilson

          You possess none of the logical facilities to even understand my question. :)


          Nobody is questioning science.

          The topic of this thread is consensus and bias.

        • Laroxe

          I’m not sure that’s true, science can be questioned for a whole range of reasons that has nothing to do with the subject area. The issue should be about if the question is reasonable, that’s why science has some many rules about the way in which it should be conducted. It is also a fundamental principle in science that its the job of the scientists that produce the work to defend it, with their evidence. If the questions can’t be answered that’s a problem, there is no requirement for the critic to produce evidence.
          One of the problems with the issue in the original post is that attacking findings simply because no one likes them suggests to observers that this is censorship and is hiding something.
          The big issue in climate has been the tendency to shut down debate and hide the data, the effect of this has been the progressive erosion of support. In the same way shutting down this paper is evidence to the antivax groups to support the view of things being hidden. When science isn’t open, it isn’t really science and people seem to have forgotten this.

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            I’d love to see this ‘Handbook of the Rules and Regulations of Science and its Methods.’

            Hint, it does not exist. There are no rules in science. You lie, you are identified as a liar. If you want to do science and keep your data and results secret, you can. That’s it. That’s something that can’t be hidden, at least not for very long. Your ideas about science, scientists and how science works are not only wrong, they are naive almost beyond belief.

          • Laroxe

            Ah, its nice to see someone joining a discussion that can’t even use Google. Well the thing you say doesn’t exist will be available at virtually every countries Government research agency, on the website of virtually every University and at most of the major charitable research funding agencies sites. You will find them all remarkably similar based as they are on international agreements. Here’s an example from the medical Research Council in the UK
            You might find Carl Sagan’s principles for critical thinking about the validity of claims useful, again they are based on well accepted principles.
            Indeed scientists can choose not to release their data, but they will find it getting increasingly difficult to publish, an increasing number of journals have it as a requirement. Most funding agencies also require the data to be made public as a condition of funding.
            Still as none of these things exist on your planet I’m probably still wrong or you are identified as an idiot.

          • Thomas Lee Elifritz

            Since I’m an accomplished scientist I am not even going to bother to read the crap you linked to here. I know you put some effort into that, sorry.

            There are NO RULES in science. Just go for it. However, your government and/or corporate funding agencies, IF YOU USE THEM, may attach some restrictions on the use of their money, but that’s their business. Science cares not about it.

            Let me explain the metrics I personally use for scientific veracity and advancement. Science is measured by its ability to construct devices, instruments and machines, that can be put into manufacturing and production and work most of the time to … get this … do more science. If they work most of the time, then science does work.

            It has NOTHING to do with funding, data, your results, how you go about doing it, THERE ARE NO FREAKING RULES. What there is, is progress, measured by the ability of science to produce ever more tools and methods to do more science. That, you can now use a hand held supercomputer to post your inane comments to a wide band communications network.

  • Darby42164

    I don’t think we scientists have “free speech” in regards to what gets published in scientific journals. And this is as it should be. What should see the light of day in journals is properly done science. If it is not done correctly then it should not appear in a journal. This study was done poorly yet it might have been published anyway, why? Are we not supposed to peer review these studies so that poor quality research does not end up printed in journals? As for the Robin Hood bit, you are incorrect on this, we do, if rarely, have Robin Hoods. Stan Pruisner was one. His work was not given the respect it deserved initially given the high quality of his work. Yet he persevered against the scientific consensus which was decidedly against his work. And guess who was right, Pruisner with his prions discovery, and thus awarded a Nobel Prize. The difference between Pruisner and this vaccine work its that Pruisner’s research was excellent, and this is garbage. Do not censor research done properly and well, if it is done poorly, please keep it out of the journals until corrected/improved. Right now I am much more concerned with the increasing glut of research that is “good” but cannot be reproduced. Wasted two years of my research career as a result of this. I wish you would focus on this rather than if we have an issue with “censorship”.

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  • jgas

    So, here’s an example of why this debate needs to be had:

    You can chip in here if you’d like to stand up for objective results vs convenient results.

    • OWilson

      I can see the difficulty our poor protagonist is in, but I also understand why.

      We grew up with little formal education, but a great deal of common sense advice.

      I can think of at least two adages that apply here.

      “He who pays the piper, calls the tune” and “When in Rome…..”

      As one who frequently rocks the PC boat, by making fun of the conventional wisdom, I am always aware that I will receive disapproval if I say, wear a visitors uniform while sitting in the home stand, expound on the benefits of capitalism in an Ivy League college, or am a Trump supporter invited to a CNN pane l:)

      Our friend should be aware of the climate he is operating in and act accordingly.

      If your view are at odds with your employer, you should be far more careful to dot your “i”s and cross your,”t”s.

      Even if our friend’s suit is successful, it will not change the hostile environment, indeed it may make his work more difficult.

      As for the principle, he may win his suit, but that will never prevent the same thing happening to others, because we are dealing with human nature.

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  • lifebiomedguru

    Do you enjoy your article appearing here, at What if people tweeting disdain had YOUR articles removed?

    The finding of the study are fully consistent with MOST of the science published from neurobiology, immunology, and toxicology, and with MANY studies conducted at the population level.

    It’s just no convenient with the “dozens” of studies cited by CDC that they want you to focus on.

    Take a look at, >1,000 studies on autism cited and reviewed in “The Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism”.

    • kfunk937

      Kinda cheeky to pimp your own currently-for-sale anti-vax book and pseudoscientific organisation, particularly without revealing your relationship with them. It’s also spammy and a disqus violation of TOS/Basic Rules.

      Flagged accordingly.

      • On Its Own Merits

        Also…let me just point out that:

        i)advertising something without ii)revealing your financial relationship with them is….the very definition of a shill.

      • lifebiomedguru

        You are just following me around. Stalking me here. Oh well. You must really not want people to enjoy the FREE access to >2,000 studies on autism at I wonder why… do you have a beef w/those 2,000 studies?

        • kfunk937

          Not stalking you, sorry. Flogging traffic to your website or spamming links to your book is a violation of disqus TOS/Basic Rules.

          Perhaps you could publish your findings in the scientific literature, where it would be subject to peer review. Or, not.

          Amazon lists your non-peer reviewed book as for sale ($19.49 and down), James. My personal opinion is that even if you flog it for free, you would be obligated ethically to reveal your authorship.

          Readers are welcome to draw their own conclusions wrt a “researcher” who “sciences” in comments sections, rather than in the peer reviewed scientific press.

          [ETA: when did more than 1000 become 2000? When did the number of references become equal to their quality or the weight of the evidence? I’d give some serious side-eye to even an undergraduate student who attempted to inflate their paper by inflating the references (whether citations or bibliography). Each should only be there when warranted, not to impress the credulous.]

        • Proponent

          Too bad you don’t take the time to review the Terms of Use for the sites that you are simply spamming a link to your book, lifebiomedguru..

          Terms of Use |

          “No self-promotion, sales, or publication of personal contact information.”

  • Tim Lundeen

    “Is it right to object to a paper just because its results fly in the face of most previous research?”

    Um, really? Please point me to all the studies of fully-vaccinated versus never-vaccinated populations. AFAIK, there is little “previous research” for this. All the studies I’ve seen have various methodological issues, as did this one, but they all show similar results — never-vaccinated populations are healthier than fully-vaccinated (to the CDC recommendations).

  • Lila Lilamayi

    I am surprised that no one has brought up the issue of conflict of interest. One of the reasons why critics thought the study was bad was that the researchers received some of their funding from an autism related group which was interested in finding a link between vaccines and autism. I have delved into the funding money trails of at least 20 major studies that are most often cited as settling the science, and they all are funded in some way by pharmaceutical corporations which sell vaccines. Why is this not such a controversy when dealing with such an important health issue? This study has its problems for sure, but may well be due to lack of funding of the researchers.

  • Diet dee

    Why not conduct more survey s of unvaccinated population. Anytime contraversy information is published it gets attacked or ignored.( If money is at stake) rather than replicated

  • On Its Own Merits
  • Pingback: Vaccines, Autism, and Retraction - Neuroskeptic()

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  • Pingback: Vaccines, Autism, and Retraction - Neuroskeptic ⋆ Epeak . Independent news and blogs()

  • Jan toff

    Are you saying scientific consensus is always correct now that we are past Galileo? Scientific consensus is constantly changing. It has changed about how and when dinosaurs went extinct, it has totally changed recently when it comes to Cholesterol and statin drugs. The world use to be flat.
    To say the science is done as far as vaccines are concerned is totally wrong. Sure they work and have saved lives, but there are more and more studies coming out showing long term problems with them. But you won’t look at them. Its not hard to find them.
    At least you had the guts to link to the original study.



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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