Observations: In praise of scientific error My wife has first dibs on our New Yorker each week, so I only just got around to reading Jonah Lehrer’s piece on the scientific method in last week’s issue, which has been getting so much attention from my fellow science writers. John Horgan calls it a "bombshell" and Charlie Petit a "must-read." Lehrer describes how many, or even most, published scientific papers prove to be wrong. In a range of examples from biomedicine and psychology, Lehrer tells of a "decline effect." The discovery paper does all the right statistical tests and infers a significant result. Follow-up studies reproduce the result, but find a lower statistical significance.
Much of the brain is still mysterious to modern science, possibly because modern science itself is using brains to analyze it. There are probably secrets the brain simply doesn't want us to know. But by no means should that stop us from tinkering around in there, using somewhat questionable and possibly dangerous techniques to make our brains do what we want. We can't vouch for any of these, either their effectiveness or safety.