Honesty isn’t that big a deal in science?

Well, at least those who think it isn’t are making their views clearer.

From science writer Michael Brooks at New Scientist:

Ah, the naivety of the older generation. Nearly 500 eminent astronomers, biologists, chemists, physicists and earth scientists have been surveyed to identify the “core traits of exemplary scientists”. Their answer? Honesty is critical, second only to curiosity, and we ought to do more to instil it in those considering science careers.

Why dishonesty anyway?

Because it gets the job done. Raymond De Vries at the University of Michigan and colleagues have argued that data manipulation based on intuition of what a result should look like is “normal misbehaviour”. They see such common misbehaviours as having “a useful and irreplaceable role” in science. Why? Because of “the ambiguities and everyday demands of scientific research”.

In other words, data isn’t often as clean as you would like. According to Frederick Grinnell, an ethicist at the University of Texas, intuition is “an important, and perhaps in the end a researcher’s best, guide to distinguishing between data and noise”. Sometimes you just know that data point was an anomaly to be ignored.

Should we do something to make science more virtuous? Probably not. More.

It sounds like: Scientists are justified in misrepresenting findings for the “greater good.”

Their choice. But remember this when people complain that the average rube doesn’t “trust” science.

Could we be looking up at an avalanche of faked up data in years to come?

See also: The war on falsifiability continues


Will there still be science in 2020?

Crossposted at Uncommon Descent

  • This can’t be good.

    • Jabberwokk

      People put their faith in science.
      Science turns out to be another lie.
      Another means to someone else’s end.
      The solution is simple.
      Return the concept of Truth.
      Uncomfortable, nonnegotiable, immovable Truth.
      And Science will be restored.
      But this is what happens,
      When you exchange the light of truth
      For the science of lies.

  • H

    I did a thesis partly on the question of subjective versus objective approaches to statistical analysis. Typically, statisticians use supposedly fully objective methods but there are always subjective inputs (what data to include, what type of analysis to perform, confidence levels, etc.) Some of these assumptions tend to get swept under the rug and are invisible to the casual observer. On the other hand,statisticians who take a more subjectivist approach, generally attempt to state and formally measure/quantify their subjective inputs (prior information about a specific subject, for instance).

    So personally, I have no trouble with scientists using “intuition” and working with hunches – IF they state clearly what they have done and why. I think it unlikely, however, that many scientists will append to proposed papers something like “well, observations #23, 45 and 104 didn’t fit with my pre-experimental assumptions – so I just dumped them or adjusted them). In other words, maybe none of us can be fully objective but surely in the case of scientific study at least, we need to make the attempt, and be very clear and honest about any subjective inputs into the scientific process. (Science may be “pure” but scientists are, well, human).

  • tom_billesley

    The very word “science” may be used dishonestly e.g. “social science” or “political science”

    • Norman_In_New_York

      Funny, but the science in science fiction sometimes turns out to be more accurate that theoretical posturing, although this genre is about applied science rather than basic research.

  • And these “rational”, “ethical” scientists want people to trust them.

    Way to set science back, idiots.

  • Clausewitz

    There will be science in 2020, just no scientists. President Clinton will have the scientific method outlawed sometime around 2018.