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WikiLetters Rationale!

Below you find reasons that motivated us to bring you WikiLetters:

Since its early beginnings in the time of the ancient Greeks, through the start of the science revolution in the time of Galileo and Newton, to the present-day, an avalanche of scientific advancement – the scientific method has completely revolutionized human existence, usually for the better. Science has progressed by constant checking, replication, and argument – but it may be surprising that much contemporary science that we rely upon is very poorly scrutinized or checked.

This statement it not true concerning, for example, Newton’s Laws of motion – there are countless checks every day when people fly in a plane, drive a car or walk across a bridge. If these laws failed or were unreliable, all these exercises would be far more perilous. The sun could not even be relied upon to rise each morning if our orbit veered from its precisely predicted path. However, most science does not fall into this tera-validated category. Most contemporary scientific contribution is rarely checked for details or grounded-proof. It is expected that some of the more important science may be rigorously checked, but there is no guarantee, and there are only ad hoc mechanisms for flawed science to be exposed.

It is interesting to note that when checks are made, a disturbingly large number of important scientific articles are found to be wrong. For example, over 75% of published articles according to Prinz et al (2011) of the German drug company Bayer writing in the journal ‘Nature Reviews Drug Discovery’. This issue has come to some international prominence with the prestigious magazine The Economist (19/10/2013).

“A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Not long ago researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group of the company Bayer, managed to repeat a quarter of 67 similarly important papers."

Other prominent scientists have been making a similar point for years. For example, John Ioannidis of Stanford University published a paper in 2005 entitled “Why Most Published Findings Are False”.

Having said that, some questions can be raised. Why is this happening? Why can we not rely upon most science? If they are right, how can we tell? Do peer-reviewed processes provide quality assurance? We may highlight the following: (1) to show a problem is relatively easy; (2) to propose solution is hard; (3) to implement a proposed solution is much more difficult. Therefore, WikiLetters is proposed as an alternative system to potentially improve most areas in science.

The problem nowadays is that science relies almost solely upon the system of peer-review as its quality assurance process. Peer-review may often involve no more than a quick read of the scientific results by a fellow scientist who may well be a friend of the original scientist. It never involves going over the data in detail, or trying to duplicate experiments in a laboratory. Peer-review is no more than a good first step in the quality assurance process.

The drug companies quoted above are expected to spend the time and money to check research that they may need to rely upon before going on to develop a new drug. After all, it may cost billions of dollars to develop the drug so they must make sure the original research is sound. But for “good of the public”, research which governments often rely upon is generally not checked, or properly checked. Governments hope scientists are right, buch childish, innocent trust in scientists, though touching, is misplaced.

In order to have more confidence in science, there is a need to identify scientific results that need a higher level of scrutiny, and to then encourage a vigorous argument to test if an articles' methodology, results and conclusions can withstand challenge. Scrutiny in science sometimes happens in the scientific literature, but there are many good reasons for one scientist not to assess the ideas of other scientists, because some scientists may not well accept critiques or pointed caveats upon their work. This fear of critiques by scientists is also explained by science (Read scientific explanation).

WL also aims to give easy access to relevant information in science via interconnected databases regarding the quality aspects of articles. Consequently, WL will help improve science by avoiding repetition of mistakes of the past.

Prinz, F., Schlange, T., Asadullah, K., (2011) Believe it or not: how much can we rely on published data on potential drug targets? Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 10, 712. DOI:10.1038/nrd3439-c1.
Ioannidis, J.P.A., (2005) Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Med, 2(8): e124. DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124.

"Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods in school. And the person that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool." Plato? George Francis Train?

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