News Peer review Science

Honesty isn’t that big a deal in science?

Spread the love
File:FileStack.jpg
What’s hot? What’s not?/Niklas Bildhauer, Wikimedia

Well, at least those who think it isn’t are making their views clearer.

From science writer Michael Brooks at New Scientist:

Ah, the naivety of the older generation. Nearly 500 eminent astronomers, biologists, chemists, physicists and earth scientists have been surveyed to identify the “core traits of exemplary scientists”. Their answer? Honesty is critical, second only to curiosity, and we ought to do more to instil it in those considering science careers.

Why dishonesty anyway?

Because it gets the job done. Raymond De Vries at the University of Michigan and colleagues have argued that data manipulation based on intuition of what a result should look like is “normal misbehaviour”. They see such common misbehaviours as having “a useful and irreplaceable role” in science. Why? Because of “the ambiguities and everyday demands of scientific research”.

In other words, data isn’t often as clean as you would like. According to Frederick Grinnell, an ethicist at the University of Texas, intuition is “an important, and perhaps in the end a researcher’s best, guide to distinguishing between data and noise”. Sometimes you just know that data point was an anomaly to be ignored.

Should we do something to make science more virtuous? Probably not. More.

It sounds like: Scientists are justified in misrepresenting findings for the “greater good.”

Their choice. But remember this when people complain that the average rube doesn’t “trust” science.

Could we be looking up at an avalanche of faked up data in years to come?

See also: The war on falsifiability continues

and

Will there still be science in 2020?

Follow UD News at Twitter!

3 Replies to “Honesty isn’t that big a deal in science?

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    I never did think there was an actual moon landing.

  2. 2
    tjguy says:

    Reminds me of a comment some scientist made when an article came out talking about the myth of DNA. It was called a “useful lie”. They got a lot of mileage out of it while it lasted and since it benefitted “science”, they seemed to think it was OK.

    This kind of thing will do nothing to build public confidence in science. They are really really foolish for saying this, but now we know. This is what they really do think. And since there is no real right or wrong i life, anything can easily be justified, including making up figures to help you make a point.

    Welcome to 21st century science where you can make the figures say whatever you want and still call it “science”!

  3. 3
    tjguy says:

    From the abstract:

    A total of 51 scientists participated in our focus-group discussions, which lasted from 1.5 to 2 hours each. We found that while researchers were aware of the problems of FFP, in their eyes misconduct generally is associated with more mundane, everyday problems in the work environment. These more common problems fall into four categories: the meaning of data, the rules of science, life with colleagues, and the pressures of production in science. Focus on the “normal misbehaviors” that are part of the ordinary life of researchers allows us to see the way the organization of science generates both compliance and deviance from ethical norms.

    I don’t have access to the article, but this is enlightening. One of the problem areas comes in “the meaning of the data”. Yes, indeed, I would think so. I’m afraid scientists are quick to embellish the meaning of the data and make it seem more significant that it really is. Claiming it supports this or that makes the research more important, does it not? Using the “E” word probably gives your paper a boost.

    It’s not just FFP that is a problem here, but these other things as well!

Leave a Reply