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Retraction Watch: Scientists fear speaking out due to loss of funding

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From Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (of Retraction Watch fame) at the Scientist:

“We have too often been reluctant to voice our protest, for fear of incurring the [National Institute of Mental Health’s] displeasure (and losing whatever opportunities we still have for funding),” wrote neuroscientist John Markowitz in The New York Times last fall. In a refreshing piece, Markowitz was arguing that “there’s such a thing as too much neuroscience.” As cofounders of Retraction Watch, a blog that focuses on some of science’s nasty episodes, we are occasionally admonished that pointing out cases of fraud—even when we also praise good behavior—will give anti-science forces ammunition.

In some ways, we should be glad scientists are acknowledging these concerns, instead of pretending they’re never swayed by the almighty dollar. But anyone who clings to the notion that science exists in a pure vacuum, untainted by politics, economics, or social justice needs also to understand that science is a human endeavor and scientists have the same eyes and ears for injustice and outrage as the rest of us. Although the conduct of science demands honesty and rigor, nowhere is it written that researchers must remain silent when governments or other powerful players either misuse science or suppress findings in the service of harmful policies. More.

One way of looking at it: The public pays for the government and the government pays for publicly funded science, as an essential middleman. What might we, the public, want to know that the middleman isn’t—for whatever reason—letting through?

And then as before, the question becomes, How to Talk so People Will Listen

Keep up to date with Retraction Watch

See also: Memo to Nature’s editors: Scientists should march carefully, and not in lock step If scientists choose to be involved in public policy in the United States, outside their own specialties, they do well to be aware of how those issues look to the job-seeker. Just a thought.

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