Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science by Stuart Ritchie - review by Roger Highfield

Roger Highfield

Smelling a Lab Rat

Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science


The Bodley Head 368pp £18.99

Science is in deep trouble. It is riddled with statistical subterfuge, data manipulation, bias, cock-ups, hype and good old-fashioned fraud. We are not talking about a few slipshod experiments but an epidemic of wrongdoing that has rendered the system of science ‘badly broken’, according to Science Fictions, Stuart Ritchie’s engaging tour of the dark side of research.

We are all familiar with Andrew Wakefield’s infamous studies on the supposed links between the MMR vaccine and autism, which ‘ignited a vaccine scare that spread as fast as any virus’. Ritchie calls it perhaps the most damaging fraud of all time and he’s right. Based on analysis of the views of nearly a hundred million people on Facebook, it is predicted that irrational anti-vaccination views will come to dominate in a decade.

But there’s so much more. In 2008, an Italian surgeon, Paolo Macchiarini, carried out the first transplant of a human windpipe, constructed partly from stem cells. At the time, I breathlessly reported how this could mark the start of a new era in medicine. Several years later Macchiarini transplanted completely

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