Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions is NPR correspondent Richard Harris’ attempt to bring awareness to the very poor science that he sees as dominating the biomedical field today.
While the title suggests a macabre narrative thread, Rigor Mortis is actually a pun on the lack of rigor that is going into the science experiments Harris discusses. Harris provides historical, social, and environmental contexts and stressors for the issues that he brings up, while also providing an overlay of solutions. Harris recognizes the difficulties in implementing his solutions given the various factors mentioned above. However, he nonetheless feels that scientific rigor must improve for science to keep moving forward.
In Rigor Mortis, Harris targets what he sees to be the major roadblocks in doing good science. Among these are the lack of incentive to do science well, the sheer challenge in reproducing studies that have already been conducted, the fact that most studies are done on animals and not humans and studies don’t always account for that, the lack of authentication of cell lines before use, a lack of guidelines for conducting certain types of experiments, and pressures surrounding publishing and funding. And these aren’t even all of the issues that Harris brings to the table.
The reproducibility problem is something that surfaces again and again in Rigor Mortis. As Harris points out from the outset, “there’s little funding and no glory involved in checking someone else’s work.” Not to mention the fact that people who try to do so often have a hard time actually reproducing the experiments. This difficulty can arise because of a lack of information from the original experimenters or social stigma that reproducing someone else’s work is in fact questioning that work instead of checking it.
From creating incentives for reproducing studies to simply sharing data and working collaboratively, Harris provides a host of suggestions for scientists, universities, labs, and journals to encourage the rigor of science and help the field to actually move forward, instead of spin in circles as he feels it so often does.
Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions by Richard Harris was published by Basic Books in April of 2017. You can purchase a copy at your local bookstore today.
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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.