Science Fictions the book was first published in Summer 2020, by the Bodley Head in the UK and by Metropolitan Books in the US. The book is currently being translated into five more languages.
If you haven’t already, you can buy Science Fictions using the buttons below:
Here are some things reviewers said about Science Fictions:
“[A] comprehensive collection of mishaps, misdeeds and tales of caution…”—Fiona Fidler, Nature“
An unnerving yet much-needed analysis... Frighteningly well-documented... A timely, hair-raising must-read.” — Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“A bracing indictment... Thorough and detailed, this is a sobering and convincing treatise for anyone invested in the intellectual credibility of science.”—Publishers Weekly
"An uncompromising examination of the collision between the ideals of science and the realities of scientific publishing. Highly recommended for popular science readers curious about what lurks behind science headlines.”—Cynthia Lee Knight, Library Journal (Starred Review)
“[An] engaging tour of the dark side of research… A psychologist who knows how to write, Ritchie is ideally suited to trawl these polluted waters.”—Roger Highfield, Literary Review
“[F]ar more enjoyable and far less worthy than you might guess from the subject matter… Although this is depressing, Ritchie reminds us that another world is possible…”—Tom Whipple, The Times
“Ritchie is fascinating…”—James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
“‘My view’, says Ritchie, ‘is that scientists need to work harder to deserve trust’. This book will help to ensure that they do.”—William Leith, London Evening Standard
“Entertaining… revelatory… brilliantly highlights the problems in current practices and sets out a path towards new ones.”—Nick Rennison, Daily Mail
“Ritchie tells the story very well; the achievement of the book as a work of popular science comes from the way it switches smoothly back and forth among three tasks, all of which it performs with considerable success.”—Oliver Traldi, Unherd
“Science Fictions presents a highly readable and competent description of the problems facing researchers in the 21st Century, and it’s an excellent primer for anyone who wants to understand why and how science is failing to live up to its ideals." —Christie Aschwanden, Wired
“As well as the book’s devastating assessment of the sciences, it is extremely useful: Ritchie takes the time to clearly explain the concepts and jargon used in debates about scientific accuracy so that any intelligent layperson can understand them…”—Sam Bowman, CapX
“Science Fictions is a handy guide to what can go wrong in science, nicely blending eye-popping anecdotes with comprehensive studies.”—Robert VerBruggen, National Review
“Important and mind-expanding”—Waterstones (The Waterstones Round-Up: July’s Best Books 2020)
Science Fictions identifies a lot of errors in the scientific literature. It’s only fair that you should be able to point out any errors you find in Science Fictions.
The book is also about how the incentives in science no longer point towards discovering the truth. So I’d like to create an incentive for getting things right.
Since the launch of the book, I’m offering to pay readers money if they find an objective error in the book.
Terms and conditions are below. Also below is a list of corrections to errors that have been found in the book so far [all the ones listed here were corrected for the paperback version, but are still listed below for transparency]. I’ll also list any non-substantial typos, which aren’t worth a reward but are good to discover anyway.
Terms and conditions
I’m willing to pay if you find minor or major objective errors in Science Fictions.
Minor errors would include reporting a numerical result from a scientific paper incorrectly (maybe the figure is 20% and I erroneously wrote 25%). This doesn’t include typos or grammatical errors unless they substantially change the intended meaning of what I’ve written. I’ll pay you £5 if you find a minor error.
Major errors would include reporting a scientific study completely incorrectly, such that the conclusions I draw are the opposite of the conclusions of the authors of the study (where it’s not made clear that I’m knowingly interpreting the study differently from the authors, or disagreeing with them). I’ll pay you £50 if you find a major error.
You can report errors by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org
These have to be objective errors - not matters of opinion or interpretation. If you just disagree with something I’ve said in the book, feel free to tell me, or write a review, but it won’t warrant payment.
Please send me as many details of the error as possible: chapter and page number from Science Fictions, as well as a reference to the original source (and the page/line/table/figure/etc. of the source) that shows why my figure or interpretation or argument is objectively incorrect. Include an explanation why I’m wrong.
Obviously, the error has to be something that isn’t already listed on this page.
In most cases I’ll decide myself whether it’s an error. If you insist that there’s a mistake and I don’t agree, we might ask a third-party arbiter to decide who’s correct. If you don’t end up convincing me, it’s not like you lose any money.
Although you can send me an anonymous or pseudonymous message, if I agree you’ve found an error, you’ll have to send me a way to pay you, which might involve revealing your identity. We can discuss the specifics when you get in touch.
I’ll post your name or pseudonym (or just “[anonymous]” if you wish) alongside the correction on this page.
If you don’t want the money yourself, I’ll donate it to charity and send you the receipt. By default I’ll give to the Malaria Consortium, currently the most cost-effective charity in the world according to Givewell.
I’ll keep paying out for errors until I’ve paid 10% of my total advance for the book after tax.
Major error: p.5. I wrote that “…nobody had ever even tried” to replicate Diederik Stapel’s findings before his data fraud was uncovered. In retrospect, this was a rather unsafe claim: just because I could find no published attempts from before the fraud revelation doesn’t mean there were no attempts. It turns out that there had indeed been attempts, as recounted in this blog post. These were focused on one of the studies by Stapel that I didn’t describe in the book, and the eventual failed-replication paper was published after his fraud was uncovered. Whereas the true state of affairs still supports my overall argument—pre-fraud-discovery, the scientists were unable to publish their failed replication—it was a flatly incorrect statement as written, and it counts as a major error. Spotted by Hans IJzerman, 2 August 2020. £50 donated to the Psychological Science Accelerator.
Minor error: Endnote no. 44, p.286. The endnote discusses the Ig Nobel prize and the book Nudge by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. It states that “Sunstein has since won a real Nobel Prize for economics”. It should of course read “Thaler has since won a real Nobel Prize for economics”. Spotted by Michael Hallsworth, 17 July 2020. £5 donated to the Malaria Consortium.
Minor error: p.1. In the first line of the book, I wrote that “January 31, 2011 was the day the world found out” about Daryl Bem’s psychic-powers study. This was the day the study was officially published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. But it had already been discussed in the media prior to January 31 (to take one of several examples, this New York Times story dated January 5 noted that the study was “expected to prompt outrage” upon its publication). It’s thus difficult to argue that “the world” only heard about the study on its publication day, and this is an error. It should simply read “January 2011”, without a specific day. Spotted by Christie Aschwanden, 22 July 2020. £5 donated to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Minor error: p.34. I wrote that ocean acidification is “one of the consequences of climate change”. But it’s not a consequence of the climate changing per se, it’s another consequence of the same thing that changes the climate: higher levels of carbon dioxide. This should read something like: “one of the consequences, like climate change, of rising carbon dioxide levels”. Spotted by Harvey Motulsky, 23 July 2020. £5 donated to the Malaria Consortium.
Minor error: Endnote no. 143, p.281. I mention “the Daily Mail’s Peter Hitchens”. But in fact Hitchens writes for the Mail on Sunday, a separate newspaper that’s owned by the same company. Spotted by Hugo Gye, 9 August 2020. £5 donated to NewstrAid Benevolent Fund.
Minor error: pp. 146-147. In discussing the “arsenic-life” story, I used “arsenic” and “phosphorus” a few times on these pages to refer to the nutrients used by the GFAJ-1 bacteria. Technically I was referring to their compound forms, arsenate and phosphate, respectively, and that’s what I should have written. Spotted by David Sanders, 10 December 2020. £5 donated to the Malaria Consortium.
Minor error: Endnote 51, p.273. The description of the process of Southern blotting, which doesn’t bear directly on the points in the main text but was added as an explanatory “bonus”, is garbled and mixes up Southern and western blotting, among other problems. It needs to be rewritten quite substantially. Spotted by David Sanders, 10 December 2020. £5 donated to the Malaria Consortium.
Minor error: p.235. I used the phrase “moonshot” research as if it was synonymous with “blue-sky” research. Of course, it’s more or less the opposite: moonshot research has a specific (if ambitious) goal in mind whereas blue-sky research by definition doesn’t. I should have used “blue-sky” instead. Spotted by David Sanders, 10 December 2020. £5 donated to the Malaria Consortium.
Minor error: p.51. I wrote that Paolo Macchiarini had been accused of falsifying data in a study of the tracheas of rats. It was actually the rat oesophagus that was being studied, not the trachea. I spotted this one myself, 22 April 2021. £5 donated to the Malaria Consortium.
Typo: p.37. In the discussion of the cancer replication project, “fifty-one” should read “fifty”. The correct figure of fifty is given as the discussion continues on the next page. I spotted this one myself, 17 July 2020.
Typo: p.244. A garbled sentence: “that of as Donald Trump” should be “as that of Donald Trump”. Spotted by Gary Barton, 18 July 2020.
Typo: Endnote no. 103, p. 314. “Tai Yarkoni” should be “Tal Yarkoni”. His name is spelled correctly in the numerous other references to his work elsewhere in the book. Please don’t tell him about this, or I’ll never hear the end of it. Spotted by Chris M, 18 July 2020.
Typo: p.234. There’s a space missing between “insubstantial” and “under” on the second-to-last line on this page. I spotted this one myself, 18 July 2020.
Typo: Endnote no. 106, p.293. Missing letter “F” from the start of the word “Female”. Spotted by Alan Gow, 20 July 2020.
Typo: Endnote no. 25, p.297. There should be a page number for the quotation from the Nature Reviews Cancer article. It’s from the paper’s Abstract, on p.441. Spotted by Matthew Hankins, 7 August 2020.
Typo: p.183. I write about two drugs, and then talk about “the former” and “the latter”. But both things I talk about relate to “the former” drug. So instead of “six papers on the latter”, it should read “six papers on it”. Spotted by Philip Fine, 13 August 2020.
Typo: Endnote no. 71, p.331. The Greek letter kappa (ϰ) should be a chi (χ). Spotted by Colin Fine, 21 August 2020.
Typo: Endnote no. 32, p.320. The title of the article being cited is accidentally written twice. Spotted by Melissa Lesh, 31 Oct 2020.
Typo: p.191 (and in the Index, p.343). “Davies” should be “Davis”. Spotted by Amy Riegelman, 19 Jan 2021.
Clarification: p.213. In describing Figure 5, I say that the effects are “clustered around zero”. That’s true - they’re clustered around zero effect. But readers who don’t know about relative risk might be confused because on the graph, they’re clustered around 1 - which indicates zero effect in terms of relative risk, but isn’t itself zero. This will be clarified in the paperback edition. Spotted by Michael McManus, 25 February 2021.
Clarification: p.286. Above I noted an error relating to the Nobel Prize for Economics. While correcting it, I also took the opportunity to add a clarification—since a few people noted it—that this isn’t technically one of the original Nobel Prizes - but is still commonly known as the “Nobel Prize for Economics”. Spotted by Melissa Lesh, 31 Oct 2020, among other readers.
Clarification: pp.87-88 (and further through Chapter 4). Several readers noted that my definition of the p-value (a) was somewhat unclear about the fact that the p-value assumes the null hypothesis to be true and (b) failed to mention the fact that to properly interpret a p-value, there are many other assumptions that need to be true. For the paperback edition I’ve altered the main text to address (a) and added to the footnote to address (b). I’ve made various other minor changes that hopefully further clarify the section on p-values and statistical significance, including removing a quotation from Ronald Fisher which probably just added to the confusion (thanks go to Dave Curtis for pointing out the potential confusion, 6 August 2020).