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Senior scientist on the real threat to the scientific method

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As evidenced by

Last week, a technical publication, Journal of Vibration and Control, retracted sixty papers, after an internal investigation revealed a fraudulent “peer review and citation process” that greased the skids for a small number of authors to have an enormous number of citations in what is a prestigious engineering specialty. At least one of the authors even managed to review his own papers under an alias.

That’s symptomatic of a larger sickness raging in what should be our most sacrosanct of institutions. If we can no longer trust science, what do we have as the basis for knowledge?

The evidence is increasingly compelling. University of Montreal’s Danielle Fanelli has written several comprehensive reviews of the content of published science and he found, in the last twenty years, that the number of “positive” results is increasing dramatically. That’s when the data confirm a proposed hypothesis rather than suggesting rejection or modification.

In a real world where scientists are answering real questions, that would be impossible. People have not suddenly become smarter, except, perhaps at how to advance in academia. There, candidates for promotion in the sciences are basically asked two questions: What did you publish, and how much taxpayer money did you bring in to support your research?

If an Assistant Professor, up for tenure, answers either insufficiently, he’s likely to be looking for another job. It’s amazing how many of these wind up staffing Congressional Committees, or better yet, on programmatic committees for the big science agencies. More.

His account of how the system that made fraud easier got started (best of intentions, etc.) is most interesting.

Maybe it helps explain why today we have multiverse explanation instead of space exploration.

See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (cosmology).

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8 Replies to “Senior scientist on the real threat to the scientific method

  1. 1
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Yes, this is an example of scientists trying to “cheat” the system. Scientists, as a group, are a cross-section of human nature, with all its strengths and weaknesses. No better or worse that any other group. Some priests molest children, but that doesn’t mean that the catholic church is evil. Some ministers cheat on their wives and steal from the collection plate, but that doesn’t mean that the protestant religion is full of sinners. Some televangelists make bald faced lies and misrepresent facts to support their views, but that doesn’t mean that this behaviour is condoned by the evangelical ministries as a whole.

    Fraud in science, and the publication of weakly supported papers, is nothing new. It is the responsibility of the journal editors to have checks and balances in place to minimize these events. This journal, obviously, did not even perform the basic due diligence on the selection of reviewers for papers. Otherwise, there is no way that someone using an alias would be selected as a reviewer.

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    AB,

    that doesn’t mean that the protestant religion is full of sinners.

    Actually, you’ve got it totally wrong, buddy.

    The church founded by Jesus Christ ONLY admits SINNERS like me, who humbly recognize our sinful natural condition and accept the offer of reconciliation with our Maker through our saving faith in the redemptive work of Christ’s death on the cross and in His resurrection.
    Jesus said He came to save the sinners, not the self-righteous who believe they don’t need God.
    Christ’s church does not admit perfect people.
    BTW, as far as I’m aware of, I’m among the worse sinners out there, but God still loves me. Actually, I believe I’m worse than you. This is good news, because it means that God loves you as much as He loves me. He wants a personal relation with you. But it’s up to you to accept His gracious offer. Think about it. No need to respond here. That’s your very personal decision.
    I pray that God opens your spiritual eyes if that’s according to the purpose of His will and for His glory.
    Have a good day.

  3. 3
    anthropic says:

    Well, AB, I think the larger problem is one of morality. If there is no objective basis for right and wrong, why not cheat if you can get away with it?

    Perhaps that is why Nixon’s attempt to use the IRS against his political enemies failed (the head of the IRS refused because it was immoral), while Obama’s succeeded without, so far as we know, anyone objecting.

  4. 4
    Acartia_bogart says:

    Anthropic, I don’t disagree, I was just pointing out that scientists are no less (or more) moral than any other group of people.

  5. 5
    Querius says:

    Good points all.

    The church founded by Jesus Christ ONLY admits SINNERS like me, who humbly recognize our sinful natural condition and accept the offer of reconciliation with our Maker through our saving faith in the redemptive work of Christ’s death on the cross and in His resurrection.

    Exactly. Count me in as well.

    What AB says is true, but what’s missing is any way of identifying and punishing fraud in any of those institutions. Sadly the rottenness tends to spread because it’s often successful and easy to duck.

    Personally, I feel that this type of fraud is a serious crime and should be treated as such by society. Just as traffic fines in construction zones are often doubled, I feel that people in positions of responsibility—politicians, teachers, ministers, judges, police, textbook authors, and scientific researchers should receive an automatic doubling of fines and imprisonment for gross moral failures (especially for destroying evidence or falsifying data).

    A Russian researcher that I once worked with, commented about a slipshod translation of a book into Russian as unthinkable in Stalinist Russia. The integrity of information in a book, thus its author, editor, or translator, was held to the highest standards. In this instance, she confidently told me that the translator would most certainly have been shipped off to Siberia! I was impressed.

    These same standards should also be applied to individual executives in corporations. For example, when we read that executives in an American automobile manufacturer decided that it would be cheaper to pay off accident victims than have a massive recall for a dangerous defect, the investors in the corporation shouldn’t have had to pay, but the executives who made the decision should have had to serve mandatory jail time.

    Have said that, I also admit that such measures would be draconian, impractical, and easily abused. [sigh]

    -Q

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    Querius

    What AB says is true,…

    The statement I quoted in my previous post #2 seemed to imply that the Christian church includes many people who are not sinners. That’s a gross misunderstanding. That’s why I wanted to clarify it right away. There’s not a single person who is not a sinner. We all fall short of being without sin, where sin is understood as anything we think or do that is against God’s will. Only one person in history lived a perfect life. He was crucified to pay the price of our sins: the wrath of God. Hence, there’s no condemnation to those who are in Christ.
    I strongly believe it’s good to clarify misunderstandings about the true church.
    Here’s another important clarification to all of us: Jesus said that not all who claim to be His followers are indeed so. He also said that if we love Him, then we want to obey Him. He knows our real motives. All sins (past, present, future) are forgiven to those who are truly in Christ. But He said many will come to Him claiming they did many allegedly good deeds in His name, but He will respond that they don’t belong to Him, i.e. they are not among the chosen ones.
    Another old misunderstanding: America is or was a Christian nation. I believe the only Christian nation according to the Bible is the true church, which has no denomination. It was known as ‘the people of the Way’ in the first century. A nation whose government declared that African Americans were not fully humans could not claim to be a Christian nation.
    Also in the Germany of the 1930s many people who claimed to be Christians accepted the evil Nazi philosophy, which included abominable things like hatred toward other people they declared to be inferior. Were they really followers of the One who asked us to love God with all our strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves? Did they really love Him enough to obey Him? Fortunately there were exceptions.
    Anyway, this subject is kind of ‘OT’ in this thread, isn’t it?
    scordova could send us to BA77’s OT thread 😉

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    Ok, I think this is not OT:

    Stopping Research Fraud

    Perceptions that retracted articles and instances of scientific misconduct are on the rise have prompted calls for harsher sanctions. (To learn about a recent point-counterpoint on this topic, click here.) What do you think?

    What is the best approach to curbing scientific misconduct and outright fraud?

    1 Crack down hard! Conduct vigorous investigations and criminalize fraud.
    2 Fund oversight bodies more generously and enforce existing rules more consistently while avoiding overreliance on the criminal justice system.
    3 Encourage more transparency and address underlying pressures on researchers that may encourage fraud.

    http://www.genengnews.com/gen-.....fraud/252/

  8. 8
    Querius says:

    Thanks, Dionisio.

    Great points in 6 and I was gratified to read 7. The frauds not only misdirect science for their own aggrandizement. but they’re wasting money that could have gone into more worthy research.

    -Q

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