The Book of the Week is “Betrayers of the Truth– Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science” by William Broad & Nicholas Wade, published in 1982.
Scientists have always emphasized that their ilk are “a rational, self-correcting, self-policing community of scholars.” They consider themselves to be superior because they believe their field of work is more “factual” and requires more education than other kinds of work. Yet even they behave in unethical ways– likely in the same proportion as the population at large– because they too, possess the unattractive traits of human nature.
The authors remarked that even some of the most famous scientists in history (such as Ptolemy, Galileo and Netwon to name just three) have fudged data, plagiarized, or lied about performing experiments they didn’t actually perform. The scientists wanted the data to fit their theories; they were lazy, greedy or glory-seeking, or a combination of those.
The authors lamented that the scientific community’s culture encouraged an atmosphere in which fraud could be perpetrated and perpetuated easily, and not be discovered for decades. In fact, the authors provided numerous, specific examples in which fraud flourished.
The reason scandals of misrepresentation in science are so dangerous is that they have a ripple effect on so many other areas of life– testing of food and drugs, matters of class and race, immigration, and education– to name a few.
At the book’s writing, publishing articles about their new discoveries in professional journals was the major way scientists furthered their careers. There was an avalanche of publications. The obscure publications had a decided lack of fact-checking of article-contents.
In 1962, and again in 1973, researchers sought to test honesty in the community. The results were less than stellar. “Fewer than one in four scientists were willing to provide raw data on request, without self-serving conditions, and nearly half of the studies analyzed had gross errors in their statistics alone.”
As is well known, science in academia has a hierarchical structure. The elitism feeds on itself. Big-name scientists at prestigious universities are necessarily trusted more for integrity than nobodies are, so their articles and grant applications are less carefully vetted, and they therefore get more prizes, editorships, and lectureships. Their reputations as “experts” become even more widespread.
However, history is rife with stories of nobodies who fought fiercely for recognition because they knew their methods or theories were superior. And often late in their careers, or posthumously, their contributions were recognized. Such greats included, but were certainly not limited to: George Ohm, Gregor Mendel, Alfred Wegener and Sister Kenny.
Sadly, it seems as though, now more than ever, many “science” shows on once-reputable cable-TV channels purport to educate viewers, but at best, convey trivia put out by profiteers, propagandists and attention whores.
Another indication of ignorance of science was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic in America. Government at all levels ordered masking of all individuals while its propaganda machine squelched the fact that:
covering one’s face with non-sterile fabric and breathing in one’s own toxic exhalations more likely propagates illness rather than minimizes the spread of it!
According to NIH News, “Your mouth is home to about 700 species of germs, like bacteria, fungus, and more.”
Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on how the scientific community takes care of its own, and other reasons dishonesty in science is actually more prevalent than it appears to be.