My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for introducing this Bill, and I agree with virtually everything he had to say. I welcome the Bill not just for what it does, but as the first step in recognising that scientific claims should be subject to challenge and to audit. This is certainly true of forensic science. The courts need to be sure that scientific claims are well-founded and well-based. The pandemic, during which we have constantly been told to follow the science and listen to the scientists, only to find that the scientific advice changes, has shown that there are more general issues where we ought to be looking at the quality of science.
We are taught to believe in scientists with even greater reverence than was accorded to Doctors of the Church in the Middle Ages. However, science does not depend on the authority of scientists, but on how well their theories fit the facts. If those theories cannot be made to fit the facts, they are not true. So it comes as a shock to discover that there is a crisis of replication in science more generally, not only in the sphere of this Bill. Pfizer, for example, could not replicate three-quarters of published studies proposing new drugs. The Economist says that there is
“A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists … that half of the studies” in their area turn out to be true or replicable.
“One biotech firm, Amgen, found that they could replicate just six of 53 ‘landmark’ studies” in the field of medical science.
The full extent and breadth of the problem, way beyond medicine and forensic science, was shown in an article by John Ioannidis. It is one of the most downloaded studies of all time and has the chilling title, Why Most Published Research Findings are False. He concluded that
“for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias” in that field. That is why I proposed a Bill to establish an office for science quality assessment which would operate under the National Audit Office to audit scientific findings on which public policy is based, whether in the courts or elsewhere. However, I welcome the Bill before us because it shows that in one sphere in particular, such a sceptical, thorough and rigorous attitude is necessary.