An editorial in the Los Angeles Times warns against jumping to conclusions based on preliminary or not-yet-replicated scientific studies. Too often, the editorial board, such studies provide the basis for policy and other decisions.
The editorial recounts the story of polio and 'spongy tar' — years ago, researchers noticed that there were higher polio rates when playground tar was spongier, an observation that led to some schools to dig up their playgrounds. However, polio cases increased during the summer, which was also when heat would soften tar.
The editorial board notes that studies today are supposed to be more rigorous, but as a recent Science paper has shown, replicating the results of previously performed studies can't always be done.
"Science is essential to our daily functioning and to our ability to understand the universe, nature and ourselves," the editors write. "Its benefits are almost unfathomable, especially when scientists build a body of multiple studies that support and round each other out."
Researchers and policymakers, they add, shouldn't get caught up in the latest hot findings. "And politicians and regulators should avoid the temptation to turn each new bit of research into policy, without widespread scientific consensus that the matter at hand has been proven," they say.