Fraud in Science


The quote below comes from a New York Times feature by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on Diedrick Stapel, a Dutch academic found to have made up data:


What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman. I am on the road. People are on the road with their talk. With the same talk. It’s like a circus.” He named two psychologists he admired — John Cacioppo and Daniel Gilbert — neither of whom has been accused of fraud. “They give a talk in Berlin, two days later they give the same talk in Amsterdam, then they go to London. They are traveling salesmen selling their story.

(h/t @AnnPettifor for the link, by the way)

Only tiny numbers of scientists resort to outright fraud to make their work more more marketable. But the pressure to secure scarce resources works in much more subtle ways. We shouldn’t imagine that researchers who make up results are the only – or even the most important – problem in science.

(By the way, Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds provides a very good discussion of the pressures that bear down on scientists and other professionals.)


1 thought on “Fraud in Science”

  1. The final chapter of The China Study by prof Colin T Campbell is a great précis on how theory from various livestock and dairy industries influences public health research and even WHO recommendations. It’s a boys club and if you don’t play ball for ranchers and dairy by denying the links to heart disease and cancer and all the other Western disease epidemics then you get to “fall on you petard”. Written by one of the best public health scientist ever.

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