The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

But … It’s Science!

Posted on | March 12, 2013 | 16 Comments

Every day, it seems, we read headlines about new research that “proves” this, that or the other thing. My favorite such research was a study that found larger-breasted women are more intelligent. Can we trust such research? Alas, a story on the front page of today’s Washington Post indicates we should be cautious consumers of science:

Last year, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud had increased tenfold since 1975.
The same analysis reviewed more than 2,000 retracted biomedical papers and found that 67 percent of the retractions were attributable to misconduct, mainly fraud or suspected fraud. . . .
[University of Washington research Ferric C.] Fang said retractions may be rising because it is simply easier to cheat in an era of digital images, which can be easily manipulated. But he said the increase is caused at least in part by the growing competition for publication and for NIH grant money. . . .

The article recounts a case of suspected fraud in cancer research at prestigious Johns Hopkins University, and quotes a blogger:

“The reader of scientific information is at the mercy of the scientific institution to investigate or not,” said Adam Marcus, who with Ivan Oransky founded the blog Retraction Watch in 2010. In this case, Marcus said, “if Hopkins doesn’t want to move, we may not find out what is happening for two or three years.”

Fake cancer research might fool federal officials signing off on NIH grants. Unfortunately, fake research won’t cure real cancer.

And breast implants won’t raise your IQ score.



16 Responses to “But … It’s Science!”

  1. Unsettling Science | hogewash
    March 12th, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    […] McCain has a post up about the danger of cheating by scientists who report manufactured data. He notes that there has […]

  2. Bob Belvedere
    March 12th, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    She Blinded Me With Science Intelligence!

  3. Bob Belvedere
    March 12th, 2013 @ 7:45 am

    ‘Ferric Fang’ – great name for an anonymous blogger or punk / new wave band.

  4. Roxeanne de Luca
    March 12th, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    My favorite such research was a study that found larger-breasted women are more intelligent.

    Will… not… make… jokes about Lucy-Ann Holmes. Will not make Page 3 jokes….

  5. Bob Belvedere
    March 12th, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    Oh. please do, Fair Roxeanne.

  6. JeffWeimer
    March 12th, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    Fake Cancer research might also get your wife killed by a one-armed man to frame you, thus you might have to go on the run from Tommy Lee Jones until you can clear your name.

  7. JohnInMA
    March 12th, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

    It would be interesting to find out if most of the dishonesty in research reporting (or research activity even?) occurs in pubicly funded efforts or if it is reasonable balanced with privately funded research. Although in house/company R&D projects are less likely to be published in detail as are public efforts (usually mandated by law – take public money = make public disclosures), the motivations are still quite different. For example, bogus drug research, or cheating on the results, can cost a company millions of dollars and surely put the cheater in front of a judge or arbitration panel, etc. In the public sector, you take the money and run. If you must, you might later issue an apology and a retraction.

  8. Adjoran
    March 12th, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

    It’s not only still with us, but scientific fraud today is most often aided and abetted by the very “scientific journals” like Nature and Science and the vaunted “peer review” process. Every major fraud over the last 25 years has made it through peer review unscathed.

    One fraud was so successful that he had papers published which indicated he was completing on average one major study every five weeks when the most prolific publishers averaged 18 months per study. It wasn’t until he was finally exposed that the journals said, “Yeah, maybe we shoulda said something was screwy.”

  9. K-Bob
    March 12th, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

    Pal Review

    It’s not just for cribbing notes in class anymore.

  10. K-Bob
    March 12th, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

    …and you’ll end up in Chicago

  11. bet0001970
    March 12th, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

    Yeah…but what if they’re REAL?

  12. WarEagle82
    March 12th, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

    Wait. You just cited a scientific study indicating you can’t trust scientific studies.

    Can you provide your raw data on this?

  13. WarEagle82
    March 12th, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    This just in! “Study finds larger-breasted women.”

    Stacy McCain ecstatically pours over raw data…

  14. Quartermaster
    March 13th, 2013 @ 6:49 am

    As long as you give them something in line with what they expect, it will make it through. It may be fraudulent, but that’s how Global Warming has mad it through such “peer” review over the years.

  15. Quartermaster
    March 13th, 2013 @ 6:50 am

    That last sentence could be taken as innuendo.

  16. SCIENCE: Study Fraud Increases x10! | Fat of The Land
    March 19th, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

    […] H/T TOO […]