Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How does bias impact the physical sciences?

One of my favorite scientists, Ben Goldacre, recently posted a Ted Talk that he gave last year on how biases affect the methodology of food and drug trials and the reporting of results. One solution he proposes is an increase in transparency of reporting on science. Presumably, people are not willing to check all the facts because it is perceived as a tedious and unwelcome job.

It's worth watching and thinking about how similar biases affect the physical sciences. Some important biases to identify in our own work include
  1. Publication bias - The increased likelihood of publishing positive results over negative results.
  2. Experimenter's bias - The bias to perform an experiment in such a way that one is more likely to achieve an expected result.
Most information I've found on scientific bias comes from medicine and social sciences. Is this because they are more susceptible to bias, because the implications for error are larger, or because the physical sciences have not adequately addressed these issues?