April 21, 2024

Even science can be flawed

Hi there,

Today’s lead sketches the results of an inquiry into academic misconduct in the Netherlands. A social psychologist, Diederik Stapel, has fessed up to fiddling data and outright fraud. His career is in tatters and the doctorates of some of his students are tainted, even though there is no indication that any of them colluded with him.

Far more significant than the personal tragedy of yet another fallen star of academia are the implications for social science research — on which a lot of bioethicists rely in constructing their arguments and proposals. A recent issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science was devoted to responding to the “crisis”. It reminded its readers that the credibility of science is not assured; it rests squarely on its ability to correct error.

But researchers today are too busy writing articles with extravagant claims which will attract more funding to engage in the boring work of replicating their colleagues’ results. John P.A. Ioannidis, of Stanford University, even concludes that “Empirical evidence from diverse fields suggests that when efforts are made to repeat or reproduce published research, the repeatability and reproducibility is dismal”.

For non-scientists, this story is a surprising and somewhat disturbing insight into the dark side of research, although it was not reported very widely. It’s something to remember when the next set of extravagant claims hits the front page…


Michael Cook
Why Science Is Not Necessarily Self-Correcting
research fraud
social priming
social psychology