Scientific Misconduct

By Goodstein, David | Academe, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview

Scientific Misconduct


Goodstein, David, Academe


Scientists aren't saints. Although few falsify results, the field is so competitive that many misbehave in other ways.

My career in scientific misconduct began more than a decade ago. That's when I realized that federal regulations would soon make it necessary for all universities to develop formal rules about what to do if the unthinkable were to happen: that scientists at their institutions would be suspected of fraudulently misrepresenting the results of an investigation or the procedures needed to replicate those results.

Since then, scientific misconduct has become a virtual academic subspecialty for me. I have given lectures, written articles, and taught courses about it. I have also drafted regulations, seen them adopted by my institution (the California Institute of Technology), copied by other universities, and, much to my dismay, put into action in a highprofile case at Caltech.

During that case, I had the remarkable experience of seeing a skilled lawyer, with a copy of my regulations highlighted and underlined in four colors, guide participants in following every word I had written, whether I had meant it or not. Through all of that, I have learned things about conduct and misconduct in science that I would like to share with you.

Let me begin by stating right up front what I have come to believe. Serious misconduct, such as faking data, is rare. When it does occur, it is almost always in the biomedical sciences, not in fields like physics, astronomy, or geology, although other kinds of misconduct do happen in these fields. Science is self-correcting, in the sense that a falsehood injected into the body of scientific knowledge will eventually be discovered and rejected. For just that reason, dissemination of falsehoods is never the purpose of those who perpetrate scientific fraud. Still, active measures to protect science are needed, because if the record became badly contaminated by fraudulent results, it would no longer be self-correcting.

For a long time, the government made a mess of trying to protect science. Government agencies performed poorly in this area partly because they mistakenly tried to obscure the important distinction between real fraud and lesser forms of misconduct.

In addition to these observations, I have also concluded that we scientists are complicit in presenting to the public a false image of how science works, which can sometimes make normal behavior by scientists appear suspect. Let me try to explain what I mean by all of this.

First, a word about terminology. People are touchy about words in this business. When a philosopher colleague and I decided to offer a course in this subject, we wanted to call it "Scientific Fraud." But the faculty board, in its wisdom, didn't want us teaching that to our students, so we had to call it "Research Ethics." The federal government, in all its gyrations, has to this day studiously avoided using the word "fraud" in connection with scientific misconduct, because in civil law that word has a specific meaning. I, however, am not afraid to call a fraud a fraud.

Intent to Deceive

Fraud means serious misconduct with intent to deceive. Intent to deceive is the very antithesis of ethical behavior in science. When you read a scientific paper, you can agree or disagree with its conclusions, but you must be able to trust its account of the procedures used and the results produced by those procedures.

To be sure, minor deceptions arise in virtually all scientific papers, as they do in other aspects of human life. For example, scientific papers typically describe investigations as they logically should have been done rather than as they actually were done. False steps, blind alleys, and outright mistakes are usually omitted once the results are in and the whole experiment can be seen in proper perspective. Also, the list of authors may not reveal who deserves most of the credit (or blame) for the work. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Scientific Misconduct
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.