Fraud in the scientific world?
In response to Trev’s heartfelt pleadings and the fact that I haven’t blogged for a VERY long time…
An article decribing some of the comments of Warwick sociology professor Steve Fuller was printed on the front page of the Boar on 7th November (a long time ago, I know). In it, Fuller is said to advocate the use of fraudulent data in scientific research in order to tweak results and make conclusions more convincing. He has even defended the actions of South Korean professor Woo Suk Hwang, who pretended that he had managed to clone a human embryo. He decribes the approach he suggests as ‘idealising’ results rather than ‘fraud’.
The article also details a survey take by Nature in the US which suggests that a third of postgraduate researchers did not follow ethical guidelines in their research. Currently, when articles come to publication, the journal editors have to essentially take them on face value. Fuller argues that we shouldn’t put so much trust in our scientists.
Should we take the scientists’ word for it? Should there be some kind of vetting system aiming to identify fraudulent research? Would measures of this kind ‘slow the pace of science down prohibitively’, as Fuller puts it? How easy would it be possible to maintain some kind of uniform standard in this vetting system? Does the fact that some kind of scientific fraud takes place already, and that eradicating it would be very difficult, justify its existence to the extent that we shouldn’t do anything about it? If you allow some kind of fraud (the ‘tweaking’ of results, for instance) how do you then stop it from going beyond just ‘tweaking’? Can we then trust the scientists to ‘tweak’ their results in the direction of the actual truth (inaccuracies can happen either through intentional bias or just because the data subtly suggests something that on further investigation actually turns out to be fictitious)?