Scientific research

Richard Dawkins delights in his own invective

The late Derek Ratcliffe, arguably Britain’s greatest naturalist since Charles Darwin, once explained how he cultivated a technique for finding golden plovers’ nests. As he walked across the featureless moor, ‘the gaze’, he wrote, had to be ‘concentrated as far ahead as possible, not in one place, but scanning continuously over a wide arc from one side to the other and back’. Should you look down at your feet, or allow yourself to be distracted for a second, chances were that this elusive wader would slip off its eggs and you would never work out whenceit came. Reading Richard Dawkins strikes me as requiring a similar kind of disciplined attention.

How far can we trust the men in lab coats?

A month ago the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine each retracted a major study on Covid-19 drug therapies. One article had been up for more than a month, the other for less than two weeks. Both were based on faked data. That the rush to publish on Covid-19 led established researchers, reviewers and journals to skip elementary checks is deplorable, if not entirely surprising. But is there a more deep-seated crisis in scientific research? Stuart Ritchie claims an epidemic of ‘fraud, bias, negligence, and hype’. Alas, he overhypes his own argument. In 2011 this book would have been a wonderful path-breaker. Back then, a reputable psychology journal