On Fact and Fraud: Cautionary Tales from the Front Lines of Science

By David Goodstein | Go to book overview

One
Setting the Stage

Fraud in science is, in essence, a violation of the scientific method. It is feared and denigrated by all scientists. Let's look at a few real cases that have come up in the past.

Piltdown Man, a human cranium and ape jaw found in a gravel pit in England around 1910, is perhaps the most famous case. Initially hailed as the authentic remnants of one of our more distant ancestors, the interspecies skeletal remains were exposed as a fraud by modern dating methods in 1954. To this day no one knows who perpetrated the deception or why. One popular theory is that the perpetrator was only trying to help along what was thought to be the truth. Prehistoric hominid remains had been discovered in France and Germany, and there were even rumors of findings in Africa. Surely humanity could not have originated in those uncivilized places. Better to have human life begin in good old England!

As it turned out, the artifact was rejected by the body of scientific knowledge long before modern dating methods showed it to be a hoax. Growing evidence that our ancient forebears looked nothing like Piltdown Man made the discovery an embarrassment at the fringes of anthropology. Tne application of modern dating methods confirmed that both artifacts were not much older than their discovery date.

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