A recent meta-analysis in PLoS One from Daniele Fanelli tries to put a number on how many scientists fake data or lie about their work, says In the Pipeline's Derek Lowe. The analysis says about 2 percent of researchers admit to doing shady things with their data. But the study's author also speculates on the reasons behind such malfeasance, suggesting it's perhaps due to financial pressures or lack of self-awareness. "The image of scientists as objective seekers of truth is periodically jeopardized by the discovery of a major scientific fraud. … This pristine image of science is based on the theory that the scientific community is guided by norms including disinterestedness and organized skepticism, which are incompatible with misconduct," Fanelli writes. But Lowe questions whether the image of science is really so "pristine." You'd probably have to go back to WWII to find a time when the general public thought researchers were just seeking the truth, but certainly not now, he adds. "I think that you'll definitely find more objective truth-seeking in the physical sciences than you'll find in most other human endeavors, but science is done by humans with all the failings that humans come equipped with," Lowe says. "One should always be open to some possibility of misconduct in any field and any situation; lying is one of the things that people do. That's not to condone it, of course — but being shocked by it doesn't seem to be too useful, either."
Not So 'Pristine'
Apr 13, 2011