You Believe the Science? What “Science?”

Triangle of Fraud Donald R. Cressey

Triangle of Fraud
Donald R. Cressey
Fraud is an integral part of the way science is organised today.__ Scientific Fraud and the Power Structure of Science

Science fraud is apparently rampant, and those who arrogantly declare “I believe the science!!!” will have to do better than that in the future, if they wish to be taken seriously.

The website “Retraction Watch” is a useful location for browsing fraudulent and retracted scientific papers.

Here is an excerpt from a recent NYT op-ed dealing with the “fetish” of scientific papers published in “high impact” journals:

Science fetishizes the published paper as the ultimate marker of individual productivity. And it doubles down on that bias with a concept called “impact factor” — how likely the studies in a given journal are to be referenced by subsequent articles. The more “downstream” citations, the theory goes, the more impactful the original article.

Except for this: Journals with higher impact factors retract papers more often than those with lower impact factors. It’s not clear why. It could be that these prominent periodicals have more, and more careful, readers, who notice mistakes. But there’s another explanation: Scientists view high-profile journals as the pinnacle of success — and they’ll cut corners, or worse, for a shot at glory.

And while those top journals like to say that their peer reviewers are the most authoritative experts around, they seem to keep missing critical flaws that readers pick up days or even hours after publication — perhaps because journals rush peer reviewers so that authors will want to publish their supposedly groundbreaking work with them. . . __ NYT via Powerlineblog

There are newer, better statistical techniques that can be used to catch “scientific” fraudsters, but most “high impact” journals are unwilling to take the trouble:

Publishing is built on trust, and peer reviewers are often too rushed to look at original data even when it is made available. Nature, for example, asks authors “to justify the appropriateness of statistical tests and in particular to state whether the data meet the assumption of the tests,” according to executive editor Veronique Kiermer. Editors, she notes, “take this statement into account when evaluating the paper but do not systematically examine the distribution of all underlying datasets.” Similarly, peer reviewers are not required to examine dataset statistics. __ Peer Review is Worthless Without Close Examination of Datasets h/t

In some cliquish and insular areas of science, such as “climate science,” it can be particularly difficult to find the bad apples. Authors often refuse to provide their datasets for fear that some fault will be found in them. Editors of journals are particularly amiss in reviewing climate articles, and peer reviewers tend to be part of the clique, more concerned about “circling the wagons” than about accurate and valid science.

Why do they do it?

Career pressure
Science is still a very strongly career-driven discipline. Scientists depend on a good reputation to receive ongoing support and funding, and a good reputation relies largely on the publication of high-profile scientific papers. Hence, there is a strong imperative to “publish or perish”. Clearly, this may motivate desperate (or fame-hungry) scientists to fabricate results.

Ease of fabrication
In many scientific fields, results are often difficult to reproduce accurately, being obscured by noise, artifacts, and other extraneous data. That means that even if a scientist does falsify data, they can expect to get away with it – or at least claim innocence if their results conflict with others in the same field. There are no “scientific police” who are trained to fight scientific crimes; all investigations are made by experts in science but amateurs in dealing with criminals. It is relatively easy to cheat although difficult to know exactly how many scientists fabricate data.[7] __David Goodstein of Caltech via Wikipedia

Science is largely controlled by a small group of “insiders,” who typically call the shots.

The semi-bureaucratic organisation of scientific research is a crucial factor in this process of shaping scientific goals. A relatively small number of scientists and bureaucrats make the crucial decisions about research: setting up and shutting down research programmes, making key appointments, editing journals, allocating grants, awarding prizes. This group can be called the political scientific elite [18]. They have the dominant influence on priorities within science. More than most other scientists, they have regular interactions with equivalent elites within government and industry, and usually share the same basic concerns.

Many of those who rise within the hierarchy do so by claiming an excess of credit for their own contributions; once somewhat up the hierarchy, it is easier to use the power of position to continue the process. It is easy to see why many of these practices are standard: they serve the interests of the more powerful members of the research community.


… It is almost always other scientists who are most aware of the cheating that goes on. There are conflicting pressures: some colleagues believe in scientific ideals and hate to see them defiled, or may want to stop the cheater from getting ahead on the basis of shoddy work; but most don’t want to undergo the personal confrontation involved in making allegations of fraud. Administrators often are reluctant to raise the matter too widely since that would hurt the reputation of their institution. __ Brian Martin (published in Prometheus)

Some journal editors have crawled so far out on the limb to protect articles which they know are fraudulent, that the weight of the smallest question mark would be enough to send them crashing to the ground below.

“If younger researchers do not start applying these techniques now,” he says, “they might find themselves on the backbenches in 10 years, because it is becoming the norm to do your research in a reproducible, transparent, and open manner.” __ Nautilus … Philip Ball

Climate science and “green energy science” will self-immolate when open, transparent, and reproducible science becomes the norm. Such types of science which only exist to serve political and ideological purposes cannot survive in an honest and open research environment.

Science Fraud Database

Retraction Watch.

Accountability in Research journal (paywall)

Judith Curry’s articles on scientific ethics

Judith Curry on “Sociology of Science”

Fraudulent science is funded by government, universities, foundations, and corrupt green billionaires.

Climate Audit blog is a running audit on climate science follies, and well worth reading.

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5 Responses to You Believe the Science? What “Science?”

  1. Bruce Charlton says:

    @al fin – Things are much worse than you make out. Some of the people who complain loudest are among the worst culprits in the destruction of real science (eg medical journal editors such as Richard Horton at the Lancet, or Richard Smith at the BMJ – who are ‘investigative’ journalists and political activists/ PR managers and businessmen – with sub-zero understanding either of medicine or science).

    Perhaps the worst problem is the implication that dishonesty is a problem in science – the fact is that dishonesty has so-completely taken-over science such that the real problem is finding anyone at all anywhere who is honest.

    The problem beyond this is that the majority of self-styled scientists are so incompetent so unmotivated by seeking truth, that they do not even realize that what they are doing has nothing to do with ‘real science’ but is merely a sub-type of careerist bureaucracy – the dishonesty is so habitual and universal that they have problem never been exposed to genuine scientific motivations – if they have they will have regarded it as merely somebody being arrogant, deliberately annoying or crazy.

    This has happened very quickly and very comprehensively – within the UK it only took a generation or less to go from dishonesty being rare to fraud being expected common sense.

    • Abelard Lindsey says:

      I have friends who have worked in the government-funded R&D milieu. They tell me the problem is every bit as bad as you say here.

  2. bob sykes says:

    Having served as a engineering faculty member at a major research university for 35 years, I, too, can testify that fraud is more common than is generally thought. Over the years perhaps as many as 30% of my colleagues were engaged in questionable practices, but deliberate fraud was rarer. I can only think of one criminal act and a few egregious cases of plagiarism.

    There are two problems not mentioned above. One is incentive. Faculty are explicitly hired to do externally funded research; teaching and service are decidedly secondary. You must come from a major research program, have demonstrated the ability to acquire funds on your own, and continue to get funding throughout your career. The emphasis in on money per se. Papers and students are the products of money. Publishing in prestigious journals and hobnobing with famous scientists aids in getting money. Once you’re a member of the inner circle, everything gets easier.

    The other problem is that department chairs, deans and provosts go out of their way to cover up fraud and protect cheaters. This is done protect the institution. The frequency of cover ups probably equals the frequency of fraud. The most egregious example in public is Fausy’s defense of Robert Gallo, which continues to this day.

  3. Craig says:

    I’ve been following a (growing) group of scientists who purport that cosmologically speaking the universe is controlled by electricity – The Electric Universe – and not by Einsteins gravity model. They present a compelling case, but they are shut out of nearly all mainstream scientific circles and many of them have lost their jobs because they dare to buck the established scientific tenants of the Standard Model. Case in point scientist Halton Arp who proved that Hubble’s redshift theory is false – the very theory the Big Bang is based on – indicates a stars age not it’s receding velocity. He was shown the door because he jeopardized funding and others careers.

    The point is they are doing science by observation and experiment and finding the electric universe theory is being validated with each passing “surprise” discovery, while the establishment rigidly uses math and fairy dust.

    • Abelard Lindsey says:

      The electric universe concept piggybacks off of plasma cosmology, which is a legitimate theory of cosmology (although likely wrong). Eric Lerner (who is developing DPF fusion) presented a compelling argument in favor of plasma cosmology sometime in the 90’s. Plasma, being an electrical phenomenon, was used as the basis of the electric universe theory.

      The electric universe concept isn’t even wrong. For example, they do not believe stars are based on thermonuclear fusion processes.

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