Peter Ridd Discussing The Integrity Of Scientific Institutions On Outsiders Sky News Australia

Written by:
18 June 2023
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On June 18, IPA Adjunct Fellow Peter Ridd joined Outsiders on Sky News Australia to discuss the integrity of scientific institutions.

All media appearances posted onto the IPA website are directly related to the promotion and dissemination of IPA research.

Below is a transcript of the interview.


Rowan Dean:

Scientists are usually the ones doing the testing, but this time they’re the ones being tested, and about time too. A new report by world-renowned statistician, William M. Briggs, who we’ve had on Outsiders by the way, is putting scientists and scientific institutions under the microscope to see just how reliable they are, and the results are quite shocking. Joining us to discuss this is a great friend of this show, marine physicist, Peter Ridd.

Peter, always great to see you. You’ve always been saying that maybe scientists should spend more time studying the scientific community and its particular flaws. Well, somebody has done that. Talk us through it, Peter. How important is this study and what are the key findings that you alerted us to?

Peter Ridd:

Well, as you mentioned, normally scientists do experiments on things like mice, but in this case, scientists became the mice. And another scientist didn’t experiment on 1,000 other scientists by giving them a whole bunch of data. It happened to be on whether immigration affects community attitudes and government responses, it doesn’t actually matter. And it got 1,000 scientists to then work out whether the answer was yes, there was an effect, or no, there wasn’t an effect, or whether you just couldn’t tell from the data. And the results were amazing. About a quarter of the scientists said, “No, no effect.” a quarter of the scientists said, “Yes, there was definitely effect.” And half the scientists said, “Yes, there was an effect, but it wasn’t statistically significant,” which really means that you can’t tell.

So what this means is that there should be one answer, either yes, no, or can’t tell. But the answers were all over the place. It means that essentially between half and three quarters of the scientists got it wrong. And that, amazingly, is pretty typical of what we see in peer-reviewed work, that when it’s checked, about half of it, very roughly, is wrong. So it’s yet another example of how our scientific institutes are just completely failing us, and the scientific profession has become one of the least trustworthy, I hate to say as a scientist, one of the least trustworthy that there is.

Rita Panahi:

Well, we saw that throughout COVID with the modeling, even locally, that was just so dramatically wrong from the Burnet Institute, even the Doherty Institute. And that’s really reduced trust in medicine, in scientists, in public health because we saw it in real time. We saw these catastrophic models that were nowhere close to reality, and the insane advice, like masking outdoors or closing schools, all those sort of things. So how can we restore trust back into the scientific community, because that’s important?

Peter Ridd:

Well, the first thing that needs to be done is the scientific institutions have to accept that they have a real problem. Now, privately, they agree. There is this thing called the reputation crisis. They know half of the peer-reviewed literature is wrong. But then they say, “Oh, you’ve got to trust scientists.” And you think, “Well, you’re not actually accepting that there’s a problem.” They haven’t accepted all the stuff that was wrong about COVID. I’m sure there was a whole heap that was right, but a lot of the stuff about vaccinations was clearly wrong, about whether it stopped transmission. They haven’t admitted it. Nobody’s having a major inquiry in any other country except Sweden, where of course they didn’t lock down in a major way.

So they’ve got to start to admit they have a problem and do something about the peer-reviewed system, because at the moment, the wheels are falling off trust for scientists. And there’s a very good reason for that, they are untrustworthy as an institution.

James Morrow:

And Peter, I mean, how much of this comes down to the fact that you’ve got scientific truth, which you’re out there groping for, and then there’s a narrative, which you have to hue to get funding to continue to pursue your scientific cases and research? And is this why it seems like, with the exception of perhaps some areas of tech, really disruptive science and true scientific discoveries seem to have kind of stalled in recent decades?

Peter Ridd:

Well, you’re dead right. It has stalled. In fact, there’s been many observations. So for example, in physics, the last really big discovery that’s changed our life was probably the discovery of the laser, to actually make a laser, or DNA back in the 1950s. Now there’s been technological developments on that. In terms of really big discoveries it’s almost stopped, which is a bit perplexing. Maybe it’s because we’ve discovered all the big things, but maybe there is a fundamental problem with the way we do science. The funding imperative that you mentioned is certainly one of the problems. But that doesn’t explain the problems with COVID. That was almost an ideological problem, that people were not allowed to dissent. So I think there’s a lack of dissent in science. There is the funding imperative. There’s so many problems that we need to get to the bottom of, because at the moment, science is failing us.

Rowan Dean:

Peter, I just want to quote from this study. Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, in 2015, said that, “If peer review was a drug, it would never get on the market because we have lots of evidence of its adverse effects and don’t have evidence of its benefit. It’s time to slaughter the sacred cow.” So that was Richard Smith of the BMJ in 2015 saying peer review doesn’t work, but we’re still addicted to it, aren’t we?

Peter Ridd:

Yeah, the worst thing is that you’ll often hear these scientists talk about peer review as the gold standard. And again, everybody knows that peer review is a complete joke. And I’ve mentioned this on this show a lot. But if we don’t solve this problem of the main quality assurance system we have in science, peer review, which we know is a complete disaster, there’s no possibility that we can solve the problem. And the way to solve the problem is to introduce dissent back. Why doesn’t the Australian Research Council have 10% of its budget to do major reviews of supposedly important science which could well be wrong? We know in America, for instance, that they waste about $30 billion a year chasing after research that proved to be wrong. So the science has discovered something, a whole lot of money goes to follow that, but it turns out five years later, the original work was wrong. It’s a disaster. The whole scientific system has turned into a disaster.

Rowan Dean:

Well, thankfully, there are people like you there, Peter Ridd, who are keeping an eye on all this for the rest of us. Thanks so much. Always great to chat to you. Speak to you soon.

This transcript with Peter Ridd talking on Outsiders on Sky News Australia from 18 June 2023 has been edited for clarity.

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