From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

The (Sorry?) State of Science

One of our goals with and The Ergonomics Report™ is to bridge the gap between science and application. We are firm believers in using scientific methodologies as a means to better understand our world. Science provides us with a means to separate fact from fiction in a complicated world, and helps us effectively direct our efforts in pursuit of improvement, whether those improvements are at a micro level, like workstation improvements, or at a macro level, like improving living and working conditions in industrial developing countries. We strongly support taking evidence based approaches to problem solving rather than anecdotal or "gut feel" leaps of faith.

That’s why it pains us to share our concerns with the general state of science, and the ergonomics scientific base in particular.

Tim Villnave, a frequent contributor to our scientific reviews in The Ergonomics Report, recently shared with me his frustration as he reviewed a special issue of a prominent journal. Of the five or so articles, only one was worthy, in our opinion, of even being published in what is supposed to be a reputable journal. I won’t name the journal here, because this problem is not unique to them. We’ve seen the same thing across many sources, and are coming to a disturbing conclusion: there is a lot of "bad" (as in poor quality) science out there. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that poorly conceived or performed studies are commonplace, but it is disturbing that the scientific community and publishers are not doing a better job of screening and improving their work.

It’s not just the state of the scientific basis for ergonomics, but the state of science in general, and the public’s understanding of that science. I’m not sure we can influence all scientific pursuits, but hopefully we can help to improve the research, and the interpretation and reporting of that research, in our own field.

We don’t bring this issue forward with the intent to look for or assign blame. As a publisher ourselves, I’m sure we can find instances where we’ve reported questionable research without diligent critical review. We do bring this issue forward because we’d like to foster a dialogue that addresses this important issue. We are asking that you take a few minutes to consider these questions:

  1. Do you believe there is a lot of "bad" science in the field of ergonomics? If so, do you believe the quality level is any worse than the science in other fields? What factors do you believe contribute to the publication/promotion of poor quality science?
  2. Can you share any ideas that you believe would increase the quality level of science in ergonomics?
  3. Would you support Ergoweb if we chose to launch a high quality journal for the field of ergonomics?

We would very much appreciate any feedback you can provide. If you’d like to share your thoughts publicly (visible only to The Ergonomics Report subscribers), please add your comments in the designated comments area, below. If you’d prefer to share your thoughts privately, please email them to

We look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-07-01.