I knew it was just a matter of time

I knew eventually some crank would find John Ioaniddis’ work and manage to misrepresent it against science, well, the first to bat are the HIV/AIDS cranks. Fresh off this bizarre declaration from Harvey Bialey that he’d won the war against HIV science and is now going home, they’re back on the horse and using Ioannidis to hint all science is bunk (via selective bolding, wink wink, nudge nudge).

I’ve written previously about the importance of understanding Ioannidis’ work, it emphasizes the critical role of replication in biological science, not that biological science doesn’t work.

In fact, in the video I posted of Ioannidis giving his talk, the development of HAART – the antiretroviral therapy for HIV – is cited as an exception to the usual rule that the promise of many therapies ultimately doesn’t pan out (it’s in the questions section in the end).

HAART is an example of a true blockbuster. The time it took from their discovery to use, which Ioannidis correlates with drugs that are most likely to be effective, was exceedingly short.

Ironically, when I first wrote about Ioannidis, I mentioned this, and that it was an excellent example of why cranks can abuse the literature – it is full of many missteps. But the take-home message of Ioannidis’ research is this, scientific results have to age, that through replication we get closer and closer to the truth, and that things need to be observed multiple times by multiple people to be considered reliable. After all, his research wouldn’t work if the literature weren’t ultimately self-correcting of these missteps that he could then observe and quantify.

I’m not surprised that the cranks have found Ioannidis’ message and chosen to emphasize its message of uncertainty in the literature to suggest science is always mistaken, but that doesn’t mean they should get away with it. This is the classic crank attack on science after all – because science can make mistakes, and corrects it’s mistakes, that it is somehow flawed. Quite the opposite. It is precisely because we don’t treat scientific results like received wisdom from on high, and doubt, and replicate, and verify, that makes science such an exceptional method of determining (or at least approximating) truth.


  1. #1 other bill
    September 17, 2007

    Andrew Gelman just published on Ioannidis and some push-back that he is getting from other biostatisticians and epidemiologists

  2. #2 Chris Noble
    September 17, 2007

    It’s also hard to reconcile this with the other common anti-science fairytale that scientists are just sheep that follow the status quo.

    It’s the drive for novel groundbreaking results that generates these papers.

  3. #3 usagi
    September 18, 2007

    Sigh, and of course it had to hit WSJ last week and be slashdotted today.

    What was the CDC study last week about the persistence of myths?

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