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

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

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

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


Fraud in science is not as easy to identify as one might think. When accusations of scientific misconduct occur, truth can often be elusive, and the cause of a scientist's ethical misstep isn't always clear. On Fact and Fraud looks at actual cases in which fraud was committed or alleged, explaining what constitutes scientific misconduct and what doesn't, and providing readers with the ethical foundations needed to discern and avoid fraud wherever it may arise.

In David Goodstein's varied experience--as a physicist and educator, and as vice provost at Caltech, a job in which he was responsible for investigating all allegations of scientific misconduct--a deceptively simple question has come up time and again: what constitutes fraud in science? Here, Goodstein takes us on a tour of real controversies from the front lines of science and helps readers determine for themselves whether or not fraud occurred. Cases include, among others, those of Robert A. Millikan, whose historic measurement of the electron's charge has been maligned by accusations of fraud; Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons and their "discovery" of cold fusion; Victor Ninov and the supposed discovery of element 118; Jan Hendrik Schön from Bell Labs and his work in semiconductors; and J. Georg Bednorz and Karl Müller's discovery of high-temperature superconductivity, a seemingly impossible accomplishment that turned out to be real.

On Fact and Fraud provides a user's guide to identifying, avoiding, and preventing fraud in science, along the way offering valuable insights into how modern science is practiced.


This book is, in a sense, the culmination of a lifetime spent in science and in science administration at the California Institute of Technology, where I've been a professor of physics and applied physics for more than forty years. In 1988,I became Caltech's vice provost, and soon after I settled into my new office I found myself in charge of all cases of scientific misconduct, real or imagined, that arose at the institute. After a number of years in this arcane field, I decided to avail myself of one the great privileges that comes with being a professor—the opportunity to share new knowledge—and I proposed, along with my colleague Jim Woodward, a professor of philosophy, to teach a course in scientific fraud. At least that's what we wanted to call it, but the institute's Faculty Board, in its wisdom, didn't want us teaching anything with that title to the students. So we wound up calling our new course “Scientific Ethics” and taught it annually for the next ten years.

When I stepped down from the vice provost's position in 2007,I realized that I now had the time to acquaint a much larger audience with these issues, by writing a book. Regardless of whether we call our subject fraud or ethics, this book will be a series of personal reflections on the topic, focusing on cases in which I have been involved during my career. Some of these are likely to be new to readers, while others will be familiar but enlivened, I hope, by the introduction of new material.

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