Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, February 09, 2024

The bias of reality

Stephen Colbert -- or rather "Stephen Colbert," in his former character -- famously said that "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." And so conservatives must deny reality, which as in the case of anthropogenic climate change means denying scientific findings, and the very integrity and authority of science. But that doesn't usually work very well with the courts -- viz. the jury award of $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann -- so they also result to scientific fraud.

You may recall that U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled to suspend FDA approval of the abortion medication mifepristone, relying largely on a study that turns out to have been conducted by a powerful anti-abortion organization. And now it turns out -- surprise surprise! -- that the study was fraudulent, and the publisher has retracted it. I'll just quote from the retraction notice:

At the request of Sage and the Journal Editor, the following articles have been retracted:
Studnicki J, Harrison DJ, Longbons T, et al. A Longitudinal Cohort Study of Emergency Room Utilization Following Mifepristone Chemical and Surgical Abortions, 1999–2015. Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology. 2021;8. doi:
Studnicki J, Longbons T, Harrison DJ, et al. A Post Hoc Exploratory Analysis: Induced Abortion Complications Mistaken for Miscarriage in the Emergency Room are a Risk Factor for Hospitalization. Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology. 2022;9. doi:
Studnicki J, Longbons T, Fisher JW, Harrison DJ, Skop I, MacKinnon SJ. Doctors Who Perform Abortions: Their Characteristics and Patterns of Holding and Using Hospital Privileges. Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology. 2019;6. doi:

Reader concerns and investigation

A reader contacted the journal with concerns about the 2021 article as to whether presentation of the data in Figures 2 and 3 is misleading, whether there are defects in the selection of the cohort data, and whether the authors’ affiliations with pro-life advocacy organizations, including Charlotte Lozier Institute, present conflicts of interest that the authors should have disclosed as such in the article. . . . 

Two subject matter experts undertook an independent post-publication peer review of the three articles anew. In the 2021 and 2022 articles, which rely on the same dataset, both experts identified fundamental problems with the study design and methodology, unjustified or incorrect factual assumptions, material errors in the authors’ analysis of the data, and misleading presentations of the data that, in their opinions, demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor and invalidate the authors’ conclusions in whole or in part. In the 2019 article, which relies on a different dataset, both experts identified unsupported assumptions and misleading presentations of the findings that, in their opinions, demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor and render the authors’ conclusion unreliable.


This is a reputable journal, but these got by the editors, and one reason is that a reviewer is also associated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.  No doubt the authors proposed him and he didn't recuse due to a conflict of interest. In other words the whole thing was a plot. This isn't exactly a unique situation - industry-funded studies mysteriously tend to favor the interests of the industry. The profit motive is very hard to expel from the scientific enterprise, but the journal editors have been trying to minimize its influence by measures such as requiring pre-registration of trials, including hypotheses; requiring disclosure of conflicts of interest; and requiring that data be available in public repositories. A concerted, intentional plot by religious fanatics is somewhat more difficult to forestall. In this case it was successful in gaining a ruling from a federal judge based on lies. That's mighty Christian of them.


Don Quixote said...

Mighty Christian, indeed.

Religion is fine as long as it's practiced individually, with no proselytizing, and it must be understood that it's fine as a practice but not as a rational belief system. In addition, anyone who is decent and ethical is that way not because of their religion or lack thereof, but in spite of it.

Chucky Peirce said...

How can someone claim to be religious when they aren't even ethical?