October 1, 2012

Fraud And Deceit In Science.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

Written by Rupert Sheldrake author of Science Set Free. Find out more about this book here!

Scientists, like doctors, lawyers and other professionals, generally resist attempts by outsiders to regulate their conduct. They pride themselves on their own system of controls, which are threefold:

1. Applications for jobs and grants are subject to peer review, ensuring that the researchers and their projects meet the approval of established professionals in their field.

2. Papers submitted to scientific journals are peer-reviewed, and have to pass the critical scrutiny of expert referees, usually anonymous.

3. All published results are potentially subject to independent replication.

Peer review and refereeing procedures can indeed act as important quality checks, and are often effective, but they tend to favor expected results and conventional procedures. Independent replications are rarely performed. There is usually no motivation for repeating the work of others. And even if exact replications are performed, it is difficult to get them published because scientific journals favor original research. Generally speaking, scientists try to replicate other people’s results only when the results are of unusual importance or when fraud is suspected on other grounds, as I discuss in my new book Science Set Free.

An additional safeguard is the convention that when other scientists ask to see a researcher’s raw data so they can reanalyze them, the data are supplied, in the interests of openness. However, when I asked for data from scientists making skeptical claims in fields of research closely related to my own, they have refused to supply them, either on the grounds that they were “inaccessible” or because they planned to reanalyze them themselves (but never did). In a recent systematic study, some Dutch psychologists at the University of Amsterdam contacted the authors of 141 papers published in leading psychology journals, asking for access to the raw data for the sake of reanalysis. All these journals required authors to sign an undertaking that they “would not withhold the data on which their conclusions are based from other competent professionals.” After six months and 400 emails, the Amsterdam researchers received sets of data from only 29 percent of the authors.

One of the few areas of science under a limited form of external supervision is the testing for safety of new foods, drugs and pesticides. In the United States, every year many thousands of results are submitted by industry for review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Their inspectors continually unearth falsified data.

Frauds in the unpoliced hinterlands of science are rarely exposed by the official mechanisms of peer review, refereeing, or independent replication. Most come to light as a result of whistle blowing by colleagues or rivals, often as a result of a personal grievance. When this happens, the typical response of the authorities is to try and hush the matter up. If the charges of fraud do not blow over and if the evidence becomes overwhelming, then an official enquiry is held, and someone is found guilty and dismissed in disgrace.

Probably many cases of fraud are indeed hushed up. The authorities have a strong motive not only to protect the reputation of their institution but the image of science itself. The philosopher Daniel Dennett argues that beliefs are social forces in their own right, and that a belief in belief plays a vital role in sustaining social institutions. Some beliefs need to be maintained for the general good. For instance, democracy depends on maintaining a belief in democracy. Likewise, the authority of science depends on maintaining a belief in scientific authority: "Since the belief in the integrity of scientific procedures is almost as important as the actual integrity, there is always a tension between a whistle-blower and the authorities, even when they know that they have mistakenly conferred scientific respectability on a fraudulently obtained result."

One of the biggest cases of fraud to be exposed in physics in the twenty-first century concerned Jan Hendrik Schön, a young researcher on nanotechnology at Bell Labs, in New Jersey. He seemed brilliantly successful and amazingly productive, making breakthrough after breakthrough and receiving three prestigious awards. But in 2002, several physicists noticed that the same data appeared in different papers, apparently from different experiments. An investigating committee found 16 instances of scientific misconduct, mostly the making up or recycling of data. As a result of the enquiry, 28 papers were withdrawn by scientific journals, including nine in Science and seven in Nature. Schön’s co-authors were declared to be innocent, although they had shared in the credit when the results were thought to be genuine. Significantly, none of these instances of fraud was detected in the peer review process.

In another recent case, Marc Hauser, a Harvard professor of biology, was found guilty of scientific misconduct by an official enquiry at Harvard in 2010. He had falsified or invented data in experiments on monkeys. Again, his dishonesty was not detected by peer reviewers, but came to light when a graduate student blew the whistle. Hauser is the author of a book called Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong (2007), in which he claims that morality is an inherited instinct, produced by evolution, and independent of religion. Hauser is an atheist, and claims his findings support an atheist point of view. In an interview a few months before he was found guilty, he said that his research showed that “atheists are just as ethical as churchgoers”.

In an insightful study of fraud and deceit in science, William Broad and Nicholas Wade showed that deceptions easily pass unchallenged as long as the results are in accordance with prevalent expectations:
Acceptance of fraudulent results is the other side of that familiar coin, resistance to new ideas. Fraudulent results are likely to be accepted in science if they are plausibly presented, if they conform with prevailing prejudices and expectations, and if they come from a suitably qualified scientist affiliated with an elite institution. It is for the lack of all these qualities that new ideas in science are likely to be resisted…. For the ideologists of science, fraud is taboo, a scandal whose significance must be ritually denied on every occasion.

Scientists usually assume that fraud is rare and unimportant because science is self-correcting. Ironically, this complacent belief produces an environment in which deception can flourish.

Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and 10 books, including Science Set Free (September 2012). He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, a Research Fellow of the Royal Society, Principal Plant Physiologist at ICRISAT (the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) in Hyderabad, India, and from 2005-2010 the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge Uniersity. His web site is www.sheldrake.org.


Write Your Comment

  1. sun

    I have read this work and it is an essential work revealing the corruption in tenured academics and corporate funded science... We need more of these. The meror has no clothes adn the science gods have scant garments as well

  2. skydancer99

    I proffer an adjunct to your much earlier Morphogenetics question: "Why does a cat and not a human emerge from the seemingly identical zygote?" Since the earth`s horizon at the time of my birth was in the sign of Leo, I have feline characteristics. Similarly, my son`s natal moon is in Leo also and we both have a great affinity for cats large and small. If I would present a thesis with substantive confirmation that Astrological influences matter, would I publish in your opinion or perish? Seeking your approval. K

  3. Mary Owen

    I thought Thomas Kuhn covered this in his book: "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". I guess it's time for another paragdigm shift in the science community.

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