Human Exceptionalism

Another Science Fraud Uncovered

Hwang Woo suk, the Korean fraudster, faked human cloning and was published in Science, which only reluctantly moved to retract, perhaps because the editors wanted it to be true. (Amazingly, a court just ruled that Hwang was wrongly fired after his fraud!) And now another science charlatan has been exposed, who published “studies” over many years that were faked. From the Telegraph story:

In one of the worst cases of scientific fraud on record in the Netherlands, a review committee made up of some of the country’s top scientists has found that University of Tilburg Prof. Diederik Stapel systematically falsified data to achieve the results he wanted. The university has fired the 45-year-old professor and plans to file fraud charges against him, university spokesman Walther Verhoeven said Thursday.Prof Stapel acknowledged in a statement the accusations were largely true.

This phony study could have had harmful social ramifications:

This year, Prof Stapel co-authored a paper published in Science magazine that said white people are more prone to discriminate against black people when they encounter them in a messy environment, such as one containing litter, abandoned bicycles and broken sidewalks.”These findings considerably advance our knowledge of the impact of the physical environment on stereotyping and discrimination and have clear policy implications,” the paper’s abstract says. Science has now flagged the article with a note to readers that “serious concerns have been raised about the validity of the findings.”

Although the paper that linked thoughts of eating meat eating with anti-social behaviour was met with scorn and disbelief when it was publicised in August, it took several doctoral candidates Stapel was mentoring to unmask him.

The peer review process seems very troubled to me–and the fact that this charlatan was eventually discovered doesn’t mitigate that. Look at the years of phony studies, which from what I can tell from the story, all leaned in a particular political direction.

Let me posit a hypothesis as a non scientist who has been observing the sector for more than a decade. I think that science has become very politicized, to the point that it’s very purpose is in danger of being subverted. When a study proposed for publishing supports the politics of the reviewers, I think it is more likely to pass muster than otherwise.  When it doesn’t, it is likely not to be published at all.

If I am right, it is distinctly corrupting of science.  And when science can no longer be trusted to provide objective information–think embryonic stem cell research, global warming, environmentalism, etc.–it not only undermines the sector, but harms society as a whole.

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