December 24, 2005

FRAUD WITH AN IMPRIMATUR (via Robert Schwartz):

Global Trend: More Science, More Fraud (LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN and WILLIAM J. BROAD, December 20, 2005, NY Times)

The South Korean scandal that shook the world of science last week is just one sign of a global explosion in research that is outstripping the mechanisms meant to guard against error and fraud.

Experts say the problem is only getting worse, as research projects, and the journals that publish the findings, soar.

Science is often said to bar dishonesty and bad research with a triple safety net. The first is peer review, in which experts advise governments about what research to finance. The second is the referee system, which has journals ask reviewers to judge if manuscripts merit publication. The last is replication, whereby independent scientists see if the work holds up.

But a series of scientific scandals in the 1970's and 1980's challenged the scientific community's faith in these mechanisms to root out malfeasance. In response the United States has over the last two decades added extra protections, including new laws and government investigative bodies.

And as research around the globe has increased, most without the benefit of such safeguards, so have the cases of scientific misconduct.

Boy, you've really got to be faith-addled to think that science will become any more reliable just because government gets involved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2005 9:43 AM

What's a little fraud when in it's for the greater cause of harvesting human fetuses.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 24, 2005 10:21 AM

I have to laugh when discussing how political correctness in higher ed has affected academic research and how grant writing has taken the top priority, people invariably say, well that can't happen in the hard sciences.

After all mathematicians and physicists, not less than biologists, must prove their theories to their peers who will immediately detect falsifications in their research.

Posted by: erp at December 24, 2005 11:07 AM

The fact that a result appears in a peer-reviewed journal is nearly meaningless these days as far as how much to trust it. The only check that matters is the demand for reproducibility. Heck, that's what science is based on after all--the idea that the physical laws of the universe are constant in space (not necessarily time...). So when the SK team claimed that the reason that other teams couldn't immediately replicate their method was because of their greater dexterity due to the use of chopsticks, a million red flags should have gone up.

Posted by: b at December 24, 2005 5:14 PM

It seemed a bit peculiar that all those astounding results came from just one lab.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at December 25, 2005 2:55 PM


Why? All the work on hypothermia similarly came from one "lab" for awhile.

Posted by: oj at December 25, 2005 4:15 PM