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Science, lies, and videotape?

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From researcher Timothy D. Clark, re a U.S. physicist doing time for research fraud, at Nature:

Scientists like to think that such blatant dishonesty is rare, but I myself have witnessed several serious cases of scientific misconduct, from major data manipulation to outright fabrication. Most have gone unpunished — in fact, it has been disheartening to see the culprits lauded. It makes little sense for fraudsters to fabricate mediocre data. Their falsehoods generate outstanding stories, which result in high-profile publications and a disproportionately large chunk of the funding pie.

I have noticed a lesser-known motive for bad science in my field, experimental biology. As environmental change proceeds, there is great demand from the public and policy-makers for simple stories that show the damage being done to wildlife. I occasionally meet scientists who argue that the questions we ask and the stories we tell are more important than the probity of our investigations: the end justifies the means, even if the means lead to data fabrication. That view is alarmingly misguided and has no place in science. The undeniable anthropogenic impacts on wildlife must be investigated with strict scientific rigour.More.

Right on, Timothy Clark. Especially if experimental biologists are expecting the public to fund their research…

The public is not short of simple stories. For one thing, we already pay for sci-fi doomsdays at the movies.

Environment protection decisions must be made by consensus and, as always, that means gaining trust about reality. Of course, it’s not the biologists’ fault that so many science writers prefer the easy doomsday paycheque to the “hard choices” slog.

One big problem is that naturalism makes it difficult for people to maintain a consistent attitude to truth-telling. After all, we are told, our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth, and nature is all there is.

See also: Researchers: Genomic tools inflate claimed species numbers. Overestimates of species can lead to waste of time and resources. For example, in a fragile ecology, are ten species endangered or 100? How can we hope for reasonable conservation strategies if we do not even have a good sense of orders of magnitude? Note: This probably isn’t a fiddle. It’s an artifact that needs correcting.

Evolution bred a sense of reality out of us


Evolutionary biologist: Humans evolved to need coercion

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