In “A Sharp Rise in Retractions Prompts Calls for Reform” (New York Times, April 16, 2012), Carl Zimmer reports on one stung editor’s effort to find out how common retraction is,
To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it.
Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.
He wants “fundamental reform,” and he isn’t the first to notice the problem:
In October 2011, for example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent. In 2010 The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study finding the new raft of recent retractions was a mix of misconduct and honest scientific mistakes.
A variety of explanations is offered for the uptick in dishonesty.
The trouble is surely this: If, as evolutionary psychologists like Steve Pinker insist, “Our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth; sometimes the truth is adaptive, sometimes it is not” (How the Mind Works, p. 305) and Darwinist philosophers like Michael Ruse insist that ethics is an illusion, it’s unlikely that – to the extent that they are believed – any fundamental reform can really happen.
Smoke, noise, and mirrors, yes. Real reform? They are whistling upwind.
Reform would be an outcome of deciding that 1) truth really exists and discovering truth is what a brain is fit for, and 2) therefore, morality is not an illusion. It is a right relationship with reality. Science used to be like that.
See also: Big news in peer review: Reproducibility project