Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Vaccination, Autism, Facts, Peer Review, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos

Vaccination, Autism, Facts, Peer Review, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos

What is a true "fact" in science?

As Peter Bowditch, Vice-President of the Australian Skeptics reports in Vaccination Link to Autism Retracted, 10 of 13 authors of a scientific article published in 1998 in the mainstream medical journal The Lancet "issued a statement saying that the paper was not evidence of a connection between MMR vaccine and autism".

The case is of interest for the LawPundit because of the role played by lawyers in selecting and sending autistic children for "scientific" testing of the alleged causal connection between the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) and autism.

"Facts" can be the Product of Wishful Thinking

As it turns out, it was all a case of wishful thinking. The scientific "facts" were bent to prove "the theory", a theory being propogated by a group of people who were politically anti-vaccination proponents.

Schools of Thought and Established Paradigms

This case may seem to be an exception to the general rule, but we find that there are many similar cases in modern mainstream science, especially in the humanities, where "schools of thought" and "established paradigms" reign supreme over the - often contrary - probative evidence. See Kuhn - Popper - Lakatos. Lakatos is especially known for his idea that the "basic unit" of science is not scientific theory but the "research program", which propagates itself through increased funding over competition and through growing content (i.e. increased publication, which is a direct result of the CONTROLLED peer review publication process).

Peer Review as the Control Mechanism of a Particular Research Program

Some scientific monopolists ignorantly and gullibly continue to sing the praises of peer review, a process one could just as well call "the buddy system among related academic cronies", i.e. in Lakatonian terms, cohorts in the prevailing "research program".

Peer Review as Regulatory Obstructionism

Strangely, in government regulatory agencies, the lack of peer review has allegedly:

"failed to identify a single regulatory action in which the lack of peer review, or inadequate peer review, has produced bad science, poor decision-making by agencies, unlawful regulations, or had other adverse effects on the public."

Rather, peer review is there seen as regulatory obstructionism, something that an economist would call a "barrier to entry", and it is precisely this function which has made peer review popular in academia. It greatly limits the scope of publication about the "true" facts.

Peer Review and the Law

Only in one academic area is there no real "peer review" and that is in American law - where the editors at law reviews and law journals are still law students - and yet, these reviews and journals are probably better than anything found in any other discipline.

Beware of the Prevailing Research Program

So what is the lesson to be learned?

Caveat emptor.

A peer-reviewed article by a Professor may just be selling you the Moon to finance not only HIS research program but also that of the reviewing Professor. After all, by definition, academic peers all sit in the same scientific "research program" boat.

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