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Many Scientists Admit Unethical Practices 610

Posted by Zonk
from the only-human dept.
jangobongo writes "A surprising number of scientists engage in questionable research practices says a story at the Washington Post. According to a large-scale survey of scientific misbehavior, 15% admit to changing a study under pressure from a funding source. Other reasons for altering data include dropping data from a study based on a gut feeling and failing to include data that contradicts one's own research. This chart gives a quick rundown of the percentage of U.S. based scientists who reported having engaged in questionable research practices according to the survey."
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Many Scientists Admit Unethical Practices

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  • so (Score:4, Funny)

    by derxob (835539) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:54PM (#12782497)
    does this mean pigs can fly? have we had the cure for cancer all along??
    I want my mommie.
  • Ethics (Score:5, Funny)

    by PhotoJim (813785) <jim@photoj[ ]ca ['im.' in gap]> on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:54PM (#12782499) Homepage
    Next they'll be telling us that politicians aren't ethical either. :) People are always tempted to take the easy route...
    • Re:Ethics (Score:2, Informative)

      by AllahsAvatar (887555)
      They wouldn't lie to us? [bbc.co.uk]
    • Re:Ethics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:14PM (#12782784)
      I think about a quarter of the people on my "freaks" list got there because of my stating this point. Bear in mind that this only the percentage of scientist that will admit on a survey. My experience and observations suggest that the percentage is far, far higher. Many how do it aren't even conciously aware enough to know they do. It's just what they do, without even thinking about it.

      Yes, science is by nature self-correcting, but when the errors are endemically embedded in the existing systems it can take a lot of time and convict a lot of Gallileos before it gets around to it.

      In the meantime time, money and even lives are lost over bullcrap.

      The practice of "science," as she is spoke, has become just another job undertaken by people who happened to go for a science degree instead of an MBA or joining the plumbers union.

      I have come to empathize with Heinlein, who, through the mouth of Lazarus Long, said something along the lines of "I stopped calling myself doctor when they started handing out PhDs to anyone."

      KFG
    • Re:Ethics (Score:3, Funny)

      by Eric Giguere (42863)
      In further news, 90% of scientists who were surveyed admitted to lying on surveys at least 60% of the time...
  • by turtledawn (149719) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:54PM (#12782501)
    When I did my last research project, I had no clue what my results meant and made that clear in my paper!

    This was an undergraduate ornithology project that was supposed to take six weeks, according to my advisor. Every professor I've told about it since then has said, that's graduate level at least...
  • I for one (Score:5, Funny)

    by Microsift (223381) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:55PM (#12782510)
    Don't trust the science behind this story!
    • Re:I for one (Score:2, Informative)

      by Shkuey (609361)
      Nor should you, they admit to leaving out information. Right down at the bottom, "Note: Not all categories in the study are shown."
    • Re:I for one (Score:3, Insightful)

      by A Commentor (459578)
      Along those lines, if they were less than honest on the testing, what's to saw they were honest on this survey.
  • Fortunately... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khelms (772692) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:55PM (#12782511)
    unlike religion, science is self-correcting over the long term. If someone fudges the data and comes up with a wrong conclusion eventually someone else will discover that and get it right.
    • Re:Fortunately... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Saven Marek (739395)
      You have to admit that eventually though also religion is self correcting too.
      • > You have to admit that eventually though also religion is self correcting too.

        WHAT??? Religion is about unchanging absolutes, it is not supposed to change. If your religion is the one true religion ("true" being the key word), how can it have changed at all, even after 2000 years?
    • Re:Fortunately... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Swamii (594522)
      Actually, religions tend to be self-evolving too, both across religions and within itself. There are lots of man-made ideas in modern religion, and many of them are wrong.

      Take Christianity, for instance. It started off as a sect of Judaism, and remained largely so until a Roman Emperor, Constantine, made it the official religion of Rome, transfusing it with practices for the surrounding pagan religions (e.g. Sunday worship named after Constantine's former sun-worshipping ways, the Easter/Ishtar festivals,
      • Re:Fortunately... (Score:4, Informative)

        by CaptainCarrot (84625) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:36PM (#12783051)
        Oh, please. This ridiculous old saw about Constantine isn't even remotely credible. It has its origins with Gibbon, who has been thoroughly discredited in this instance. Christianity had just been through the worst persecution it had ever experienced, with so many martyrs made that the Coptic Church still counts its years from the accession of the emperor responsible for it, Diocletian. (They call it the Age of the Martyrs.) Some of the participants at Nicaea were missing eyes or limbs from the tortures they suffered rather than give up the faith. It's absurd to claim that these people would just roll over because an emperor told them to. It would have been contrary to everything they believed in and inconsistent with how they had behaved up to that time.

        Constantine wanted order in the Church which was wracked with controversy over a particular theological issue, so he called the council. After convening it, he left the discussions up to the bishops, who ended up condemning Arius. Constantine was so uninterested in the theological determination that he was actually baptized on his deathbed by an Arian bishop, a fact that cannot be reconciled with the notion that he was responsible for the council's decision. It actually took a second council to finally put an end to the schism.

        Easter wasn't invented at Nicaea. It had been celebrated since the second century at least -- probably earlier; this is just when the avaiable documentary evidence was written. Of course, it wasn't called Easter, and wouldn't be until a few hundred years later when some obscure Germanic tribes were converted. It still isn't called that in most parts of the world. It's ancient and proper name by which it was known to the Fathers at Nicaea is Pascha, the Greek adaptation of the Hebrew Pesach: Passover. "Passover" and "Easter" are the same word in the Greek Bible. (What actually was done at Nicaea relative to Pascha was that a consistent method of determining when it should fall was decided upon. Before that there were a variety of methods, and different local churches were celebrating it on different days. But they were celebrating it.)

        There's no credible cultural or etymological link between "Ishtar" (whom Constantine did not worship at any point in his life) and "Easter". "Easter" comes from the Anglo-Saxon month "Eostremonath", of obscure meaning. Bede claimed it referred to a goddess named Eostre, but he is writing generations after his people converted and not from living memory. There's no contemporary mention of this goddess at all, and modern scholars have concluded that he was just guessing [religionnewsblog.com] and was probably wrong.

        Christianity always had a distinctive organization from Judaism -- note from Acts 15 that questions were not referred to the Sanhedrin but to a Christian council, with the decision announced not by a kohan or rabbi, but by the local bishop. It grew even moreso after the destruction of the Temple in 70 and the levelling of Jerusalem in 120 when the Jewish population was scattered. It was clearly not Jewish by the time Nicaea was held, even among its Semitic adherents.

        If this is your myth, you can live with it if you want, but please don't try to present it as fact. It just isn't.

    • Re:Fortunately... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stlhawkeye (868951) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:03PM (#12782615) Homepage Journal
      unlike religion, science is self-correcting over the long term. If someone fudges the data and comes up with a wrong conclusion eventually someone else will discover that and get it right.

      Yes. Religion never reviews its own practices, views, and procedures, and changes them. That's why Catholic masses are still spoken in Latin, women must wear hats in church, women can't be deacons or altar servers, diabetics are forced not to eat on Fridays, the church condemns homosexuality as an abberation (actually, some Christian churches do this, but Catholic Canon Law states that homosexuality is not chosen by the individual, the causes of it are unknown, and a man cannot be condemned for being something that is not of his choosing).

      I'd posit that religion is much slower to change than science, but no less capable of it.

      For the record, I am not a practicing religious person of any kind and generally distrust organized religion in general. I did, however, think your post was predictable backlash against what you believe to be Christian hegemony.

      • He was referring to Southern Baptists.
      • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:09PM (#12782727)


        Actually, religion doesn't change as much as it forks.

      • Creationism (Score:4, Insightful)

        by freeweed (309734) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:14PM (#12782794)
        Well said. Further evidence of religions/churches (they're not the same thing) changing: the modern creationist movement.

        A century ago, virtually all christian sects had no problem with the scientific conclusion that the Earth is several billion years old.

        Starting in the 1960s, and just reaching a fever pitch, we have millions of christians who swear that their bible/religion/church says that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

        Sure, religion changes all the time. It's just that science generally changes in response to *evidence*. Religion changes in response to someone's agenda.
        • Re:Creationism (Score:5, Informative)

          by Golias (176380) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:24PM (#12782935)
          A century ago, virtually all christian sects had no problem with the scientific conclusion that the Earth is several billion years old.

          Starting in the 1960s, and just reaching a fever pitch, we have millions of christians who swear that their bible/religion/church says that the Earth is only 6000 years old.


          Wow. You never heard of the Scopes Monkey Trials, huh?

          (Hint: That was back in 1925, and along with the failure of prohibition signaled the winding down of a "revivalist" period which goes back to the 1890s, and the radical abolitionist movements several decades before that. Fundamentalism in America is a lot older than you seem to think it is.)

          Didn't your High School force you to sit through the movie versionof that shitty play?
          • Re:Creationism (Score:5, Insightful)

            by freeweed (309734) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:48PM (#12783191)
            Sorry. I should have been a bit less broad in using the term "creationism". The actual "man didn't evolve from monkeys" debate of course started right around Mr. Darwin's time. However, by the middle of the 19th century pretty much everyone agreed that the Earth was at least several million years old thanks to geology.

            The recent "Earth is only 6000 years old" movement really needs a better name, because while it's tied to creationism, it isn't exactly the same thing. The fundies started up with the insistence on 6000 years simply because it pretty much dismisses the possibility of any evolutionary processes. By the 60s, with the overwhelming majority of science pointing to evolutionary theory as correct, they needed *something* as evidence against it.

            But you're right, by the proper definition of the word, creationism has been around for a long, long time. We really need a term to separate the two. Ussherism, named for the bishop who originally calculated the 6000 years back in the 17th century?

            (And no, I didn't see the movie. Maybe it's an American thing only? Got a link? :)
            • Re:Creationism (Score:3, Informative)

              by 3nd32 (855123)
              Biblical literalism is the term that comes to mind. Many view the first couple chapters of Genesis as figurative truth, in that it displays important principles (God's absolute power) while not being an historical account. Many Christian apologists now maintain those chapters as historically accurate, and literal truth. Another term would be "young earthers". I personally have no idea. I'd love to see a good debate between the two sides though.
              • Re:Creationism (Score:3, Interesting)

                by robertjw (728654)
                Many Christian apologists now maintain those chapters as historically accurate, and literal truth.

                That doesn't even explain it though. At best you can claim 'civilization' is 6000 years old. Even if you take the Bible literally (which I do) there is a good part of Genesis that doesn't give a timeframe. Adam and Eve were in the Garden, but for how long. Genesis 4:16 - " And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived". If Adam and Eve were the only two people, where the heck did Cain get a Wife??? Obviou
            • Re:Creationism (Score:5, Informative)

              by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Friday June 10, 2005 @05:58PM (#12784760) Homepage
              However, by the middle of the 19th century pretty much everyone agreed that the Earth was at least several million years old thanks to geology.
              Umm... No. Many biblical literalists never 'agreed', not in the 19th century and not now.
              The recent "Earth is only 6000 years old" movement really needs a better name, because while it's tied to creationism, it isn't exactly the same thing. The fundies started up with the insistence on 6000 years simply because it pretty much dismisses the possibility of any evolutionary processes.
              Umm... No. The '6000 year old earth' is a 19th century movement (based on a 17th? century work) in response to the work of geologists insisting the world was in fact much (*much*) older.

              As the other poster tried to point out to you, fundamentalism is *much* older than you seem to think. It's influence has waxed and waned over the centuries, but it's never been absent and rarely insignificant.

      • Re:Fortunately... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by lysergic.acid (845423)
        you can't argue that religion hasn't often been a reactionary force opposing cultural change. church leaders try their best to resist changes society but society inevitably wins. it took the catholic church a very long time to accept evolution, and i imagine it will take even longer for most christians to accept that sodomy is not a sin. except for the few iconoclasts in religious history(martin luther, for example) few people are comfortable challenging the time-honored traditions and views held by the chu
    • You mean like the reformation?
    • Re:Fortunately... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NanoGator (522640)
      "unlike religion, science is self-correcting over the long term."

      Unlike religion? How can somebody on the side of science feel comfortable making statements about something they only have vague stereotypical impressions of?
      • I know quite a few science-minded individuals who have an extensive religious background (often as children) whose preference for science over religion approaches zealotry. That certainly may be due to negative experiences not generalizable to religion as a whole or as a concept, but don't assume what experiences someone does or does not have based on their current beliefs.
    • by bluGill (862)

      Eventually. You gotta admit that having the earth open up and swallow those who get it wrong is a lot quicker method of getting the right result though.

    • I'll ignore the anti-religious flamebait and move on to point out that the same pressures which cause one group of scientists to fudge data may exist across an entire field.

      Read this Slashdot article [slashdot.org]. In the second linked article, on the forth page, the scientist who initially got a furor started about the effects of cell phones on DNA states:

      Lai says there have been about 200 studies on the biological effects of cell-phone-related radiation. If you put all the ones that say there is a biological ef

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:55PM (#12782512)
    This is why we have peer review, independant repetition of studies, randomised double blind trials etc. It all comes out in the wash.

    • by GreenPhreak (60944) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:21PM (#12782892)
      While it is true that peer review and repetition of studies does make science robust against individual researchers fabricating or 'bending' their data to match desired results, it still remains a problem in the scientific world. Just recently I read about a researcher who did particle physics and had fabricated his data on various different studies. Eventually, people discovered the false data, but it took a long time because he was a respected researcher and the project was abstruse and hard to reproduce (particle physics requires supercolliders, of which there are few in the world).

      As a graduate student, I feel pressure from my advisor to not mention discrepant data or those conclusions/questions which detract from my overall hypotheses. It is unfortunate that such should occur, but I can see why it does happen. People want to be proven correct. If they set out to prove a hypothesis with a scientific experiment, and then after a few months or years of research, they discover that the evidence points against their hypothesis or that the method which they employed doesn't provide a conclusive solution, it can be tempting to 'throw out' some data. After all, they put in all of that effort, and they want their recognition. Usually, it means more papers, which oftentimes means more notoriety, job security, money, etc.

      I'm not justifying this behavior because science should be done for the sake of understanding nature, not for making a paycheck, but I see where these scientists might be coming from.
      • It is unfortunate that such should occur, but I can see why it does happen. People want to be proven correct.

        Well, that, but I think the biggest reason is that negative results are (almost always) unpublishable.

        That's one of the many reasons I find research in industry so much more pleasureable than in academia. I'm given a problem, do the study and get paid whether the result is positive or negative, as long as it's right. There is so much less stress and so much less temptation to cut corners than when

    • by borroff (267566) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:33PM (#12783015) Journal
      When I was an undergrad, I worked at a campus observatory giving tours, since it wasn't a working research site anymore. It did, however, hold offices for two astrophysics grad students. Since I had taken some graduate classes with one of them, they deigned to speak to me.

      One of them was doing his dissertation on stellar pressure gradients. He was having this huge block writing his thesis, because his results contradicted a previously published paper's conclusions, and he couldn't figure out where he went wrong. After some digging and calculating, he realized that the prior paper's data contradicted their conclusion as well, and they had just faked the diagrams to match their predicted result.

      So much for peer review...
      • That's true. Not to mention the pressure of not to challenge mainstream ideas. That would be a career suicide. This is why scientists tried to fudge their data / experiments so that it looks like they agree on mainstream ideas and add things a little bit. This is quite common.

        When you have something controversial that contradicts mainstream ideas, you will be frowned upon during the peer reviews and most likely will receive really really bad review that your paper get rejected almost immediately without

        • People may think that the review process is double-blind. Yes, that's true.

          No, it isn't. Generally reviewers get the manuscript with names attached. I don't know of any journal that does "blind" reviews.
  • by JJ (29711) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:55PM (#12782513) Homepage Journal
    It had to be the Professor of Gilligan's Island fame. If he could come up with a car, fix the radio, etc. don't you think he could have come up with a way to fix the boat.

    In truth he just liked the attention of hanging out with Ginger, the movie star and Maryanne, the girl next door.
  • Already covered (Score:5, Informative)

    by benploni (125649) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:56PM (#12782519) Journal
    That's why the Scientific Method requires reproducibility. It's not just to weed out confirmation bias or experimental error, but to double check against fraud.
    • Re:Already covered (Score:3, Insightful)

      by robbyjo (315601)

      It's not as simple as that. Many research actually are reproducible. However, in most cases, they only show specific datasets that highlight of their research without mentioning that for other datasets the result of their research would be abysmal.

      Another common misuse is that they handwave intermediary processes so that it's completely impossible to duplicate. The scientists have the alibi for the limit on the number of pages imposed by the scientific journal.

      Both of these need an immediate attention

  • by Triped (668579) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:56PM (#12782524) Homepage
    Is there any way to say that this isn't surprising without being considered a troll?
    • The problem is that Slashdot has no [OBVIOUS] tag. When you're told that your research funding will get canceled if you don't get the right results, odds are, you're going to find a way to get the right results. This isn't any different than real estate where appraisers are told what the sale price of the house is and then need to find a way to make the appraisal fit the price, or politicians who introduce legislation at the behest of the lobyists who got them elected.
      • At the end of the day, scientists are people too. They have the same weaknesses and vices as the rest of us, and often times the concrete (a job) will override the nebulous (the integrity of science).
    • No.

      Please mod the parent as a troll. Thank You. :-)
  • by kjeldor (146944) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:56PM (#12782530)
    The person who wrote conducted this research lied about the results. There are actually no researches whatsoever who falsify data.
  • That for most of us that believe in the Scientific Method, to the point, almost to the exclusion of all else, we need to be reminded that sometimes we can be just as blinded by the theories that we believe as those we criticize.
  • Just a tweak (Score:3, Interesting)

    by neonfrog (442362) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:59PM (#12782565)
    If you leave out the plagiarism and resume builders then the numbers don't look so bad!
  • by commodoresloat (172735) on Friday June 10, 2005 @02:59PM (#12782570)
    This sort of behavior is encouraged by the Bush Administration if results are fudged to favor its position on the environment. Anybody catch this story [nytimes.com] in the NY Times about the White House doctoring reports on climate change? Here's an interview with Warren Olney [rbn.com] about the incident. It seems to me that if we can't trust scientists to tell us the truth regardless of the political implications or of pressure from outside sources, we're really fucked.
    • Let's not blame the Bush administration for this. If you read the article, even Mendel may have fudged his numbers. And the highest percentage of unethical behavior seems linked more to career or research advancement, which appears to be built into the current system of funding. To get grants or tenure you have to bring in the money, which means appealing to those who have the money to give, be it private or public money.

      While I agree that the current administration appears to be most guilty of fudgin
    • by MoralHazard (447833) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:21PM (#12782886)
      I don't wanna start a political tussle, but harping on the Bush administration for this leaves out the fact that liberals do this kind of thing, too.

      Take a look at the various reactions to studies that show different ethnic groups, nationalities, and other genetically-similar categories of people (including men vs. women) have different intelligence distributions. The less-controversial results are the ones that say "Men are better at this type of abstract task, women are better at this other type of brain use," and even these get attacked by people who simply don't want to believe that their could be built-in differences.

      And then you have "The Bell Curve" and similar studies. That specific study is questionable (not wrong, but it has issues), but other studies have repeatedly confirmed that different ethnicities can have markedly differing average IQs. The differences are statistically significant (meaning that they're not attributable to mere chance), though they're probably not practically all that significant. And it's not like saying "I'm Chinese, you're African, therefore I'm smarter than you," it's just saying that Chinese people tend to be smarter.

      Strangely enough, the Left attacks these results bulldog-style. And most of the attacks aren't about the methodology, or the validity of the results. Most of the attacks seem to be "How could you possibly say such a thing?" It's like the reactions to Kinsey's sexuality studies: people base their values on assumed truths about the world, and when careful study reveals that the assumptions are false, people don't want to discard the basis of their value systems.

      The point is, ANYbody, regardless of politics, can fall victim to resisting the truth because it's intellectually convenient to do so. Don't just blame the Bushies.

  • ...Falsifying reports on the unethical practices of scientists in order to get posted on Slasdot!

  • There's nothing unethical about my practices....I tell you those sharks wanted those frickin' laser beams grafted to their heads...they pretty much begged for them!

    ^_^

  • by jeblucas (560748) <jeblucas.gmail@com> on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:00PM (#12782579) Homepage Journal
    My wife worked in a group at Northwestern that kept a greaseboard of in-jokes made by the various members. My favorite was always, "Let red denote the fabricated data..." It just sounds so natural.
  • by d_p (63654)
    ...unavailable for comment.
  • by Jimmy_B (129296) <slashdot@ j i mrandomh.org> on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:01PM (#12782594) Homepage
    I saw this earlier in the print edition, and it's not really what it sounds like. The question to which 15% said yes was whether you'd ever changed the procedure, methodology, or results of an experiment in response to pressure from a funding source. Well, changing the results would be very, very bad, but they actually asked a separate question on that one and only 0.3% (a statistically insignificant number) said yes. Changing methodology is not necessarily illegitimate; if your funding source says "give me X precision", or "measure Y too while you're at it", then the procedure's going to change to reflect that. It doesn't mean there's bias, it means the question was asked incorrectly.
    • by arkanes (521690) <arkanes&gmail,com> on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:05PM (#12782650) Homepage
      Hell, the second paragraph of the article does it.
      More than 5 percent of scientists answering a confidential questionnaire admitted to having tossed out data because the information contradicted their previous research or said they had circumvented some human research protections.
      Tossed out data OR circumvented human research protections? Those are totally different things! What the hell?!
      • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker&gmail,com> on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:19PM (#12782861) Journal
        Hell I've tossed results because they contradiced what I expected. Generally to come back and see I made an error in my procedure. It like doing hard math, sometimes you mess up but generally you see it when you do. Sometimes you can fix it, othertimes you just have to write it off as a fluke.
        • Hell I've tossed results because they contradiced what I expected. Generally to come back and see I made an error in my procedure. It like doing hard math, sometimes you mess up but generally you see it when you do. Sometimes you can fix it, othertimes you just have to write it off as a fluke.

          It is perfectly legitimate to toss out data in the early stages when you are working the bugs out of an experimental method. But you have to toss all of it, not just the part you don't like. But at some point, you ha
  • Sciencology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:02PM (#12782605) Homepage Journal
    Maybe they work [guardian.co.uk] at the White House, funded by the oil industry to select "winning" research.
  • This chart gives a quick rundown of the percentage of U.S. based scientists who reported having engaged in questionable research practices according to the survey.


    Well, I find the chart about 15% suspect, because as we know, surveys are manipulated by scientists...

    I think my head just exploded from circular logic... *OUCH*
  • Surprise, surprise ! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alexhs (877055) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:03PM (#12782622) Homepage Journal
    <rant>
    I posted that story twelve hours ago and it was rejected. Maybe because the link was in the Baltimore Sun (only link I found with Google, I read the story in a French webnewspaper) and not in Yahoo News / Washington Post ?..
    </rant>

    here [baltimoresun.com] is a additional link from the Baltimore Sun.

    The full original article is in Nature.
  • In other news... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PingXao (153057) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:05PM (#12782642)
    100% of politicians lie, cheat and steal. Even scientists are *gasp* human. Unethical behavior should not be condoned, but what I'd like to see is a similar report done on lawyers and politicians. THe only problem is none of them would answer honestly! At least this research got some people to admit they were fudging numbers. The actual results are probably skewed to the low side, if anything, because undoubtedly there are some scientists who will lie to cover up their other lies. These are the wannabes to watch out for. Like Bill Frist.
  • by yali (209015)

    What are the odds that the Republicans are going to use this report to try to smear scientists even more than they have?

    Although if you look at the original Nature article...

    The modern scientist faces intense competition, and is further burdened by difficult, sometimes unreasonable, regulatory, social, and managerial demands. This mix of pressures creates many possibilities for the compromise of scientific integrity.

    ...it actually sounds an awful lot like the Bush White House [bbc.co.uk].

  • Triple-blind study (Score:4, Interesting)

    by linuxwrangler (582055) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:06PM (#12782655)
    Certain types of research have bias built-in. If BigDrugCo wants research results on NewExpensiveDrug they aren't going to farm the research to the people who told them their last drugs were worthless. Therefore, if I want BigDrugCo's $$$ in the future I'll try to design the study and present the results in the most positive way. Whether or not I'm aware of it there will be some underlying pressure.

    As such, I feel that this type of study needs what I've coined a "triple-blind study" in which a neutral party is placed between the funder and the researcher.

    This neutral party would then choose researcher(s) at random from a pool of candidates qualified to do the research and frame the question in a neutral way. The funding source and desired outcome would be withheld from the researcher.
  • by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:06PM (#12782656) Homepage
    Here's a Catch-22: this study was a study that might have been rigged to make sensationalist claims for the Post, right?
    • This has nothing to do with Catch-22. This is more like a tautology. If the study was true, then it was true. If the study was rigged, it was also true.
  • Such behavior is known as the tenure track.
  • by GPLDAN (732269) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:07PM (#12782681)
    National Public Radio in the U.S. ran a story about how Merck ran a campaign to pressure M.D.s who were doing research showing Vioxx was a problem in patients, causing damage to the heart.

    The story is right here [npr.org] and it outlines a major problem with all scientific research, but most acutely in the pharmaceutical industry, where the Bush administration has gutted the FDA and made them the lapdog of the drug companies. Capital markets use science and statistics as weapons, and objective evidence of problems exists only when other drug companies that compete fund research to show problems.

    Bush said last week that he still wasn't interested in a Kyoto like treaty, because global warming needed more "research" and study. And, of course, the report that shows that an employee of the American Petroleum Council was sitting inside the EPA censoring reports that showed any causality between burning fossil fuels and global warming. Can't have that.

    Corrupt scientists. No objective sources of information. And people wonder why there is a skyrocketing reliance on religion by our political leaders, who pander and are willing to teach nonsense like "Intelligent Creation" alongside scientific evidence of darwinism and natural selection. Divinity sells. And a assailable scientific community only makes it easier.

    We seem to be leaving an age of reason, and entering a new Dark age. Instead of Thomas Aquinas we have Dr. Phil.
    • by plopez (54068) on Friday June 10, 2005 @04:30PM (#12783712) Journal
      I work near a local Ag. school and a friend of mine did some research (in Ag. Economics) of the effect of having all the meat major packing companies subcontract purchasing to one company. His conclusion was that it was a defacto monopoly. The paper was funded by the Dept. of Agriculture and so prior to publication they reviewed it.

      After review he was warned that if he published it he would lose all current and future funding. Apparently the meat packers did not appreciate the information. AFAIK it has never been released toa journal.

      In general, Ag. research was subverted long ago, as was probably Economics. What is new is that ideology is now playing a major role, including things such as 'Intelligent design', not just money. In general, it is starting to look more like Germany circa early 30's where only ideologically pure research could be done. If I were a reasearcher I would be looking for a research friendlier country.
  • "According to a large-scale survey of scientific misbehavior, 15% admit to changing a study under pressure from a funding source."

    I suppsoe we're supposed to believe this number hasnt been inflated since the study was done by a ethics evaluation company? :)
  • by Councilor Hart (673770) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:08PM (#12782692)
    How accurate where the experiments from Eddington that were supposed to prove Einstein theory, back in ~1920? Not very, that's for sure

    Also, if graders at university level care more about how a paper is formatted and (nicely) written, than if the experiments were properly conducted, bad behaviour is encouraged.
    I know people who made one good measurement, made up the rest and spend the remaining part of the time on the paper due at the end of the day. While others spend their time on the experiments and had to write their papers quickly and hasty, forgoing a nice layout.
    You didn't had time to do both.
    Guess who had the better grade?
    Sure, measuring the period of a swinging pendulum may not be groundbreaking, but it's all about instilling the correct work habit.
    Perhaps what they did was good for getting a good grade, and they were the smarter of the rest of us. But it was damned lousy science.
    Yes, after all these years, I am still "upset" about it.

  • ... with the help of this online english/"science" language companion [rdg.ac.uk].
  • by nasor (690345) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:11PM (#12782742)
    As someone who does scientific research for a living, I have to point out that changing a study because of pressure from a funding source is not necessarily unethical. It's very common for a scientist to say "I want money to study X, Y, and Z" and have a funding source respond "We only really care about X, Y and Q. How about studying those? We'll pay for that." Our the source might say half-way through the study "We've heard that one of our competitors is researching W. Will you look into that instead of Y?" Remember, 'changing a study' is not necessarily unethical. Studies change all the time even without pressure from a funding source, often simply because the researcher comes up with a more interesting or effective way to conduct the study.
  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:13PM (#12782774)
    15% admit to changing a study under pressure

    Reached for comment, the researchers admitted that the actual number was 9%, but they felt some scientists were not willing to admit their wrong-doing, and their editor wasn't going to publish the story unless the number was at least 15%.

  • by myc (105406) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:14PM (#12782786)
    the reason I think this stuff happens is that the "publish or perish" pressure is just too insane at top universities. It's not just publishing in any archival journal; to maintain funding, to get tenured, high quality publications in high profile journals are a must. I can't speak for other fields, but in the biological sciences, not only is the pressure to publish in quality AND quantity getting greater each year, the field has exploded to such a degree that the burden of proof for one's hypotheses is increasingly heavier. Exploratory studies cannot be carried out; the emphasis is almost entirely on what can be completed and published in a reasonably short period of time. Experiments are hard to do. If a grant deadline/tenure review is coming up and the data is not quite what it needs to be, people might be tempted to fudge it a tiny bit.

    None of what I just said excuses scientific misconduct. But I think why it happens is just a symptom of a bigger problem (at least in biology). There are too many Ph.D. level scientists! The incessant cranking out of these highly educated people is creating an oversupply of researchers. Every Ph.D. who gets a tenure-track research position (these positions are highly competitive; typically 50-100 highly qualified individuals who have equally impressive CVs compete for one spot) has to stake out their little project and protect it like a lioness protects her cubs. If they're not careful and blink the wrong way, they could be scooped by competitors (i.e. beaten to publication); a good chunk of their career just went down the drain. This after a completely unreasonable length of postgraduate training (6-7 years for a Ph.D. and 4-5 years postdoctoral training after that is quite typical), poor pay and lousy hours. All because IMO there are too many people working on the same shit.

    I think that to fix the problem, something fundamental needs to change in the way scientists are produced. I don't pretend to know what the best solution would be, but one idea I've been throwing around is to train more M.S. level people than Ph.D. level people. These would be employed as staff scientists rather than independent principal investigators, such that there would be enough of a labor pool to actually do the work, but without having one's career constantly in jeopardy.
  • It's not so clear from the description that what they're doing is really faking data or anything as out-and-out fraudulent as that. There's a whole gray area there. See this [wikipedia.org] wikipedia article, for example. Also, science is almost never done by impartial, objective people, the way they described it in sixth grade. Scientists generally have strong opinions, and then set out to prove them. A great read on this is the book Microbe Hunters, by Paul de Kruif. (You have to ignore the racism.)
  • I'm dubious toward any study that predicts DIRE CONSEQUENCES unless immediate action is taken.

    After all, why would anyone grant you additional funding if all you have to say is that everything is A-OK?
  • 15.5% admit to changing a study under pressure from a funding source.

    84.5% are lying.

  • by tbo (35008) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:27PM (#12782965) Journal
    I'd like to point out that this is a survey only of scientists funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health). It has no bearing on conduct of scientists in other life sciences or in the physical sciences. I would imagine that given the closer industry ties of human health-related research, there would be different, and perhaps greater, pressure to falsify data. There is also clearly no opportunity to violate human subject research standards when you're studying subatomic particles.

    Physics Today has a good story [aip.org] on ethics issues in physics. It seems that data falsification is relatively rare (the few high-profile cases demonstrate that it is generally a career-ending move), but other ethical problems certainly do occur. In particular, Physics Today talks about the abuse of graduate students (a problem that's probably not limited to physics).

    As a graduate student myself, I've got things pretty good, but some of my friends are definitely being mistreated. One guy is working 70-hour weeks and is still getting told by his supervisor that he's not working hard enough. I'm sure that if he protested he'd quickly find himself tossed out of the group and having to start his thesis research again from scratch.
  • The irony (Score:3, Funny)

    by c0d3h4x0r (604141) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:31PM (#12783003) Homepage Journal
    According to a large-scale survey of scientific misbehavior, 15% admit to changing a study under pressure from a funding source.

    In other news, the scientists who conducted the survey are now admitting they fabricated the survey results.

  • Limited Dishonesty (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jodka (520060) on Friday June 10, 2005 @03:49PM (#12783203)
    I work in science department at a large university and what srikes me is the degree to which scientists here are ethical about science, but only science. In all other aspects - lying to their employees, misdirecting funding, fudging non-scientific reports- they are devious lying weasels. But they are adamantly against fudging data, I have never seen it or even suspected.

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