Approaching scientific publications with a bit of skepticism is a good idea


Larry Moran is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto. And he’s definitely not a believer! In this May 9 blog post he points us to a very good talk by comedian John Oliver on why we should be a tad skeptical of scientific publications. And skepticism is an important part of science. It gets a bit naughty, but does raise some very important points. The talk is about 20 minutes long and well worth a listen.

Here’s the link: John Oliver teaches us to be skeptical of scientific publications

(Phil) #2

Good talk, I wish everyone knew the stuff he is talking about. My field is medicine, and scientific papers are even more difficult to interpret as ethical issues prevent adequate controls and blinding in many cases. It is thought that as few as 30-35% of initial studies hold up to scrutiny and are reproducible. The good news is that we know that, and while a study may be interesting, until the process has confirmed the findings, and it is properly investigated, it does not enter mainstream practice most of the time. So beware except for the positive studies on coffee. Coffee is good.



I feel sorry for you doctors because you have to deal with anti-vax loons!

(Amy Chai) #4

Yes, so true. Our nights at home often involve reading other people’s research for peer review. My husband is on some editorial boards and NIH study sections, and he is very skeptical of every paper. He doesn’t like to review papers from certain places because of their fraudulent activities. Medical and social science research is even dicier than your translational or basic science stuff. Most of the time, the peer review process works. Even so, conclusions are often wildly incorrect. Remember when the acid hypothesis of peptic ulcer disease was so entrenched that Dr. Marshall actually was forced to swallow H Pylori to force the establishment to consider his hypothesis? Now that is drama, and that was in the eighties. Remember the time when if we were not prescribing hormone replacement therapy we were killing our post menopausal women? Oops, ha ha. I have always been extremely conservative about “trying that cutting edge thing” because you know, I have seen a lot of this.
The big problem I see though, is that when research get politicized we are walking on very thin ice and people get entrenched in their ideology and become unwilling to consider that they might possibly not be correct. And there are a number of highly politicized research areas right now. The worst offenders seem to be sociology types, who aren’t really scientists at all, in the STEM sense of the word.


He wasn’t really forced to, but decided to take this step so people would believe him. Anyway, I had 3 ulcers at one point and was negative for H. pylori.

I agree. I think that if you tried to publish a paper that tried to show that being gay was caused by anything other than genetics you’d be taking your life into your hands.

(system) #6

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