Cherry-Picking in the Era of COVID-19 | Office for Science and Society – McGill University

Working directly for a vested interest is not conducive to objectivity. There is plenty of historical evidence for scientific philandering in, for example, the tobacco, asbestos, chemical, pharmaceutical and dietary supplement industries. Either the risks of the products are downplayed, or the benefits overplayed, which can readily be done by referring to the literature selectively. “Environmentalists” have also been known to play the same game. And much too often, the response to an unfavourable study is an attempt to discredit the research by searching for methodological flaws, instead of scrutinizing the work objectively.

With cutbacks in government-sponsored research, scientists are increasingly looking to industry for grants. Although it is nonsensical to dismiss a study just because it may have been sponsored, there is clear evidence that such studies are more likely to favour industry than studies that are totally independent. On occasion, even independent researchers may be so convinced of the merits of their pet view that they become self-delusional and ignore any contrary evidence.

Science should of course be objective and pristine. Let the data rule! All the data! But teasing out a sound scientific conclusion from the overwhelming amount of information available today is a daunting task. It requires detachment from any vested interest, expertise in evaluating the quality of studies, and recognition of the fact that experimental results can be misinterpreted or purposefully twisted.

Cherry-Picking in the Era of COVID-19 | Office for Science and Society – McGill University