Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cheating in Science.

Nature magazine has an interesting write-up about a recent study. A poll of 3,247 scientists, asking a range of questions relevant to scientific misconduct. The study showed that 1 in 3 scientists has been guilty of fudging their results:

"Of 3,247 early- and mid-career researchers who responded, less than 1.5% admitted to falsification or plagiarism, the most serious types of misconduct listed. But 15.5% said they had changed the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source; 12.5% admitted overlooking others' use of flawed data; and 7.6% said they had circumvented minor aspects of requirements regarding the use of human subjects.

Overall, about a third admitted to at least one of the ten most serious offences on the list -— a range of misbehaviours described by the authors as 'striking in its breadth and prevalence'".

I'm not surprised. Much how money has affected the world of sports, financial interests have contaminated the scientific arena. Increased pressure for funding has resulted in an overwhelming number of scientists cutting corners.

Moreover, young scientists these days are finding it harder and harder to find academic positions in reputable institutions. The fact that many scientists are willing to tell an intellectual "white lie" seems fitting, given the circumstances. Still, their actions are reprehensible.

In the 1960's, dubbed the alkali age of chemistry, physical chemists strived to achieve quantitative and rigorous results. Today, an increasing number of scientists are allured by flashy results and quick publications that will lead to widespread publicity. Again, given current trends in science I find the results of this study disheartening, disappointing but certainly not surprising.

16 Comments:

Blogger RT said...

I don't find it very surprising either, but I do find it scary as hell! Will all that falsified data and knowledge be used for future studies?

12:16 PM  
Anonymous NM UF N PhD said...

This study should include a cross correlation plot of the how the offenders match each other. What percentage of people who reported false data also did the other bad things. Probably most. The biggest problem with the false data is that it generally wastes other peoples time who try to build of it. I have always tried in my work to be my own toughest reviewer, I try to think of all the possible problems with the results and place them in the discussion. This often does not go over that well with the big guy upstairs who would like the papers to seem like we have more certainity about the results than we are.

Vavoom is right about the money. While competition is important to bring the best to the top we have way to much redundent and counterproductive things going on in science.

The worst behavior is not even in the top ten. The one about withholding methodolgy or results in papers. This probably the biggest fault in our many investigator system. The system would be most efficent if everyones best ideas are open fully after publication but as is often the case the methodology sections often lack the details necessary to advance the work for people outside the original authors.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Veritas said...

Here's a prime example of a scientist playing something up for the media:


Jesus didn't suffocate on the cross

4:04 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

I would really wish they would have shown how much data from these fudged experiments came from collegiate and business sponsored programs. For some reason, I think that scientific researchers working for... say a pharmeceutical company would be less likely to falsify data for many reasons. Heck, most of those scientific failures wind up creating profitable products like Viagra. But on the other side, there is a lot of pressure when it comes to grant money, prestige and ego. Just makes me wonder how much further ahead science would be if we kept building on reliable information.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Veritas: Of course he didn't suffocate. We knew that already from reading the Bible. Be sure to look at older references before citing newer ones! ;)

rt and nmufnphd: Competition does bring speed to science. However, we're at a point a plethora is being published that is virtually meaningless.

You're all right. How can we stand on the shoulders of giants, when our weight can't be supported?

8:06 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

That is so scary...

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vavoom: Very fascinating indeed. The general public has no idea!

10:23 PM  
Blogger Raine said...

Any institution at the mercy of others for funding will be tempted to lie.

See "Reason" (a libertarian mag) article about schools underreporting critical data:
http://www.reason.com/0506/fe.ls.how.shtml

11:15 PM  
Blogger thc said...

But what if the researchers cheated on the study of researchers who cheated?

11:57 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Haha! thc, that was hilarious! I hope it was supposed to be. Though, I also wonder the same thing.

So, does this mean H2O isn't really water? Man, I hate being lied to.

In all seriousness, that is scary. And thc's question is definately one to ponder.

2:21 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

thc: I believe the study. It mirrors the phenomena I've seen in every academic institution I've ever worked at.
raine: Great link. Thanks.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Its scary the number of papers where the data or methodology is conveniently left off, but it is something of a red flag.

Whats truly bad is when it looks like the methodology is there, but after 15 run throughs you still can't duplicate the experiment. Being young, I always assume it is my error, but it looks like they really are just leaving out a step or something.

However, if I'm not mistaken, when it is a truly big important or new idea, you get tons of people trying to duplicate the experiment, who actually get more attention at that point if they can show you were wrong (fads in science).

8:01 AM  
Blogger Rattie said...

The article is not surprising...I see it all the time in the social sciences. Money talks and competition is brutal in the field; hence the cheats. The situation is also a clear reflection of our society.

8:51 AM  
Blogger boabhan sith said...

Hey, if they don't fudge it just a little...they'll loose funding.

LOL...and they're all about funding!

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i fink this web site should have cheating exam results for those who can not do sciance or eny other subject because it helps and no one will find out about it unless they somthing to the exam bord!!!! but it is unlikely!!!!!!!.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh sheet! It is why I have given up with science.

10:52 AM  

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