UK Conference of Science Journalists: ‘institutions unlikely to fairly investigate allegations of fraud made against their own’

Guest post by Douglas J. Keenan

The 2012 UK Conference of Science Journalists was held on June 25th. The programme is available on the UKCSJ web site. The conference is intended for science journalists, as its name says; I attended at the kind invitation of the President of the Association of British Science Writers, Connie St Louis.

I went to two of the sessions. The first was a session was entitled “What can journalists do to uncover scientific misconduct?”. The second was the plenary at the end. What follows is my perspective on those sessions.

Misconduct session

Misconduct is what most people call “fraud”. This session had three speakers.

The first speaker was the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Anaesthesia, Steve Yentis. Yentis told about the case of Joachim Boldt, an anesthesiologist who has had over 80 papers retracted. He also told about the case of Yoshitaka Fujii, an anesthesiologist who seems to have published 193 bogus papers. A third case was also cited, though I did not get the details. Yentis has been leading the charge to get more integrity in anesthesiology.

The second speaker was Peter Aldhous, from New Scientist magazine. Aldhous has worked to expose fraud with stories in New Scientist. His presentation seemed sound, but there was no substantial news. (The slides for his presentation are on his web site.) One point he made was that institutions are unlikely to fairly investigate allegations of fraud made against their own researchers: this obvious point seemed to be new to some people.

The third speaker was Ginny Barbour, who is the Chair of the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE). Barbour said that COPE was working to get institutions to investigate allegations of fraud made against their own researchers. She also claimed that only a few percent of research publications are fraudulent.

During the question period, someone stated that science journalists should be cheerleading science, and that fraud is very rare, and anyway science is self-correcting. More generally, many people there genuinely believed that almost all scientists are virtually always honest. Those people work with science all day, and yet they seem to have no clue about how science really operates. Overall, I found the session stunningly disheartening: there is an enormous way to go, to get many journalists to appreciate what reality is.

I pointed out that all the examples of fraud given by the speakers were in medical science. I noted that in the UK, during the past half century, there does not seem to have been a single case where a non-medical researcher has been officially found to have committed fraud. That is clearly unreasonable. Consider much smaller groups of respected people: e.g. members of parliament, Catholic priests, police detectives—in each instance, we know that during half a century, at least a few of them will have committed serious crimes.

I also described how I once reported a fraud at the University of Reading. The university refused to investigate: I was told that the university had no procedures for investigating such allegations, because their professors always act with integrity.

The conclusion is that there is no accountability. I said that there were some fields of science where half the research publications were bogus. That was in conflict with the claim of Barbour, and did not go over well.

Some journalists seemed to think that verifying research fraud requires specialist scientific expertise. I gave two counterexamples from my own work. One counterexample is in archaeoastronomy of China, where a fraud consisted of claiming that a figure with four dots in it actually had five dots in it: in other words, understanding the fraud only requires being able to count to five. I published a paper on this, which overturned the previous 20 years of research in the field. The other counterexample was the analysis by Phil Jones on Chinese weather stations; I mentioned this only briefly, as I did not want to get into the emotive politics of global warming.

Afterwards, I briefly talked with Aldhous. Aldhous explained how a journalist might have to put in as much time to get a story about fraud as to get, say, 75 stories about usual science. From a business perspective, that is obviously a serious problem.

I also briefly talked with Barbour. I repeated the point that Aldhous had made about institutions investigating their own researchers. Barbour replied that she was aware of the problem, but having institutions investigate their own was the best that could currently be done. At the time, I could not think of anything polite to say in response to such nonsense. It is obvious that having institutions investigate their own is worse than doing nothing, because it tends to give the illusion of there being a real investigation. (We have seen such illusory investigations with Climategate, for example.)

Barbour then talked about the COPE Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors. She suggested that it was via the Code that research would gain more integrity. The Code contains statements saying that editors should “strive to constantly improve their journal”, should be “supporting initiatives to educate researchers about publication ethics”, and should “publish guidance to authors on everything that is expected of them”. Those are plainly platitudes. The Code makes no mention of research data having to be disclosed, of computer programs having to be available, etc.—that is, it lacks most of the specifics that would be needed for it to accomplish anything non-illusory.


Plenary session

This session had four speakers.

The first speaker was the journalist William Cullerne Bown. Bown said that science journalism is failing: his main evidence is the small number of readers. He explained how, after the development of the atomic bomb, the public became fascinated by science and the promise to change civilization. That promise has not been fulfilled, at least not nearly as much as was claimed half a century ago. In consequence, public interest in science has lessened, and shifted more to technology.

Bown noted that the big stories about scientific failures have been missed. He also commented on large institutions involved in science—citing the Royal Society, Elsevier, and the Wellcome Trust—saying that such institutions “have their own interests”, which are not necessarily those of science. He observed that there is lots of corruption among politicians and business people; so how could it be that there is seemingly almost none among scientists? He criticized the many science journalists who seem to treat scientists as being almost like demigods.

The second speaker was the economist and BBC journalist Evan Davis. Davis cautioned journalists about focusing on negative aspects of science, such as fraud, saying that negative publi

city might bias scientists against doing anything, and we want to encourage scientists to continue their work. He later said that “exposure [of fraud] is not a very good goal” for science journalism.

I think that there are many people like Davis: people who have effectively taken science to be their religion and scientists to be their priests or even gods. Those people are deeply fearful of having their religious beliefs defenestrated. The result is the anti-journalism on display here.

The third speaker was Jay Rosen, Associate Professor of Journalism at New York University. Rosen was also the person who delivered the keynote address for the conference. He stated that it was important for journalists to “confront climate change denialism”. He came across as being highly certain of himself, while having little understanding of the issues, i.e. a typical third-rate academic.

The fourth speaker was Connie St Louis; in addition to being President of the Association of British Science Writers, St Louis is also Director of Science Journalism at City University London. St Louis argued that journalists are too close to scientists. She said that fraud is “very very underreported” and that in consequence “we have failed as journalists”. She closed with the exhortation “let’s have some real journalism”.

The statements by St Louis prompted discussion. Bown said that he agreed with the statements. Many people, however, seemed to disagree. Someone in the audience said that fraud is confined to a few isolated individuals.

I repeated my main point from the earlier session: in the UK, during the past half century, there does not seem to have been a single case where a non-medical researcher has been officially found to have committed fraud. This demonstrates that there is no accountability.

I also gave an example from my own work, in radiocarbon dating. In radiocarbon dating, a chemical measurement is made on the remains of an organism, and then a statistical procedure is used to calculate how many years ago the organism died. I had found an error in the statistical procedure: thus, most radiocarbon dates are inaccurate. I submitted a paper on this to a journal. The paper had five peer reviews, all recommending rejection; in each case, I wrote a rebuttal—in some cases pointing out clear dishonesty by the reviewer. The editors actually asked a total of 25 scientists to peer review the paper; the remaining 20 declined to do a review, but were often were critical of the paper’s claim. In other words, out of 25 scientists, not one could be found to recommend accepting the paper. Eventually, the journal sent the paper to a statistician, whom I was told was eminent; the statistician said that the paper was obviously correct. The paper was then published. Thus, this is an example of an entire field covering up a substantial error—presumably because they want to avoid the embarrassment of admitting making such a mistake.


For me, the take-home message from the conference is that a large majority of science journalists are extremely naive about scientists. The naivety is so extreme that I suspect it must be partially willful.

For global-warming skeptics, something else should perhaps be mentioned. Many global-warming skeptics seem to think that there is something special about the prevalence of bogus research in global warming. There is not. Anyone who has looked at other fields of science knows that there are fields that are worse than global warming. This tells us something important: the underlying cause of the problem is not specific to global warming.

I mention this especially because some skeptics seem to believe that what is needed is reform of the IPCC. Yes, the IPCC could benefit from reform. But that would not solve the problem.

We have known for millennia that prerequisites for integrity in human affairs include things like transparency and accountability. Those things should be in all scientific research.

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Paul Vaughan
July 1, 2012 8:50 am

“‘institutions unlikely to fairly investigate allegations of fraud made against their own’”
External review works the same way. The collegiality knows no geographic boundaries. It’s a universal brotherhood.

Bloke down the pub
July 1, 2012 9:12 am

It sounds like the fourth estate is fast asleep on the job.

July 1, 2012 9:13 am

Fraud or conscience ingnorance: the supposed exactitude of the global warming alarmists — to the tenths of a degree — infers a level of precision that is at odds with the statistical method that they employed–i.e., choosing the Bayesian approach instead of the scientific method.

July 1, 2012 9:14 am

I wonder if the willingness to find fraud in medicine was tied to the desire to nationalize medicine and point out the profit motive there. While pretending it does not exist equally with other research grants.
There is a great deal of political theory out there going back to some work the Soviets did on how to use research grants to skew research and create financial largesse and penalties to incentivize ambitious profs and administrators to provide what is desired for policy campaigns. At some point it came West. I see it in education especially where the reports will lay out how to get everyone involved on board with the recs or they can find another job. If they have tenure, they still need to be quiet even if they refuse to cheerlead.
It is hard for me to imagine that NSF would openly push what function as gag rules in their math and science partnerships with districts and states and in their Centers for Learning and Teaching on campuses with reviews designed to ensure compliance or there will be no renewal and not be doing comparable actions on climate research.
One other note has to do with the new science standards. I have talked in general about just how little transmission of knowledge there is in the US Common Core implementation. Countries like the UK and Australia that are much further along in the UNESCO Education For All/Quality Assurance process have tragically little knowledge left as Competencies/life skills and emotional manipulation and values measures of “student wellbeing” get pushed instead.
The science concepts that do make it through are those that can be manipulated emotionally so that low info future voters know just enough to recognize that this is an issue they are supposed to worry about. Climate change/AGW/pollution/endangered polar bears or anything else cuddly are thus all ripe for emphasis. So future voters will have politically desired beliefs grounded in emotion, not facts. That tidbit came out as I was tracking down repeated references to “just enough content knowledge.”
It means just enough for it to be an area of emotional and political manipulation that can be relied on for the future.

July 1, 2012 9:14 am

This might be a good link under the section referring to bogus research in many fields. Does not have to be fraud to be wrong or misleading.
Not sure if you have seen this from 2005. It might be worth its own post even if you addressed it back then. It concerns the use of weak statistical tests and the habit of not publishing negative results. Then you can have multiple studies with small sample sizes that suggest there might be a statistically significant result. This, of course, results in a news story with a gaudy headline. Years later when they pool a bunch of small studies, you find there never was a significant result and if the dozens of negative results had been published, then no one would ever have speculated there was an effect to begin with or you could have done the meta study much sooner.

July 1, 2012 9:19 am

“there are fields that are worse than global warming.”

Vic H.
July 1, 2012 9:27 am

Great article. A meeting on scientific fraud that shows journalistic fraud.

Tim Walker
July 1, 2012 9:39 am

Wonderful, but from a lover of science very sad.

July 1, 2012 9:41 am

The dolt who advocated exposing climate chage “d*nialism” pretty much exposed themselves as being an advocate disguised as a reporter. Sad that “journalists” cannot dicscriminate any longer between advocacy and reporting, which is one of the first principles of journalism.
But the money quote was this one:
“The second speaker was the economist and BBC journalist Evan Davis. Davis cautioned journalists about focusing on negative aspects of science, such as fraud, saying that negative publicity might bias scientists against doing anything,”
Can you imagine getting up at a conference on journalism and arguing that exposing negative aspects of politics might result in politiicians not doing anything at all? Perhaps a good follow on to that one is that exposing wrong doing amongst law enforcement officials might prevent them from doing law enforcement at all? Intelectual baby talk!

Carl Brannen
July 1, 2012 9:42 am

Loved your paper. I’m a physics grad student. Recently I joined a big physics collaboration and they also use Bayesian analysis. In a certain sense, it’s easy to understand but it’s not quite what one would choose to do intuitively and that’s why people deviate from it. I can understand how your paper was hard to publish.

July 1, 2012 10:10 am

I noted that in the UK, during the past half century, there does not seem to have been a single case where a non-medical researcher has been officially found to have committed fraud.
Even worldwide, although possibly some country had an exception, I can’t even recall ever hearing of any specific case of any pro-CAGW climatologist ever suffering any legal or serious net academic penalties from fudging data in a paper,* and often nobody else ever sees the raw data anyway while having no way to directly verify it, not beyond indirect methods like comparing to other studies. Even when a paper’s raw data contradicts that in other studies, there can be no way to tell it isn’t by unintentional accident or measurement error. In fact, such is usually impossible to know absolutely in a specific case, only able to be deduced over patterns. In many ways, in context, I’m only surprised there isn’t more simply unmentioned adjustment of raw data in more papers; as far from everyone has intrinsic ethics against that, making the question from that perspective become why on Earth not? — for historically, statistically the chance of penalty in climatology is minuscule (like someone’s chance of being struck by lightning in their lifetime) if such is carried out with much cunning at all.
Dr. Mann continues to be showered with money and awards; he didn’t take a risk of any real penalty so much as make a very effective career choice for massive gain and honors upon honors.
* The closest to a penalty occurring in related context which I’ve ever heard of would be Peter Gleick, but he just had a token brief leave of absence for whitewashing before being reinstated at the Pacific Institute, while his fame and prestige amongst many supporters only increased.

July 1, 2012 10:27 am

“there are fields that are worse than global warming.”

Mental health, for example, (although I don’t mean to start a competition). Have a look at:
The Real Suicide Data from the TADS Study Comes to Light
which ends:

And how many other youth have lost their lives in this way, unaware of the real suicide data in the…trial?

July 1, 2012 10:31 am

My experiences in attempting to correct methodological errors are similar to those of Dr. Keenan. As a group, researchers exhibit great reluctance to admitting errors. They seem to fear humiliation or unemployment if they admit to them so they are highly inclined to cover them up.

July 1, 2012 10:47 am

The whole fraud thing isn’t hard to understand if one simply “follows the money.” Independent research driven by a funding search can be compromised, even when the individual has the utmost integrity. Unless that individual is willing to stop doing what they love, they can be compromised, slowly subtely.
In a free market, where customers are free to sue, research, which is driven by a corporation trying to make a profit from the results, will lead to quality products. Note, I said free market, not managed market. The classic example is the electronics industry. Bogus claims in semiconductors are outed with great frequency, only the highest quality research stands the tests of time. The turmoil within the industry is typical of a vibrant, growing market. Attempts to lock the market into an OS, chip, whatever fail long term – the dynamics of the web, cell phones, tablets, etc. have destroyed the “golden future” of both Intel and Microsoft, now both are having to compete, and to compete fearcely.
Clearly in Academia such results driven forces are absent. Back when amatuers drove science, reputations depended on accuracy and reproducability. When they were funding themselves, they carefully checked everything multiple times. Now as long as a paper goes out, there’s no pressure, but there’s always a check. Just follow the easy $$$$.

July 1, 2012 10:49 am

“Afterwards, I briefly talked with Aldhous. Aldhous explained how a journalist might have to put in as much time to get a story about fraud as to get, say, 75 stories about usual science. From a business perspective, that is obviously a serious problem.”
“The first speaker was the journalist William Cullerne Bown. Bown said that science journalism is failing: his main evidence is the small number of readers.”
Can you imagine the readership they would get if they got off their lazy back sides and did the work to investigate the difficult issues? What would the readership on political matters be like if the reporters who exposed Watergate had shrugged and said “getting to the bottom of this is 75 times as much work as just reporting what Nixon said”? I find it mind numbing that science journalists haven’t figured out that their readership would sky rocket if they did their jobs. Deliver pablum and your consumers soon get tired of the diet.
Is there a single science journal that has a fraction of the readership of WUWT? Odd the readership that controvery generates, isn’t it? I am gob smacked that editors and journalists alike can no longer understand that what drives readership is EXPOSING malfeasance. Of COURSE it is harder than just repeating the spoon fed press releases. Do they think the Pultizer Prize is awarded for doing the easy stuff?

P. Solar
July 1, 2012 10:54 am

For global-warming skeptics, something else should perhaps be mentioned. Many global-warming skeptics seem to think that there is something special about the prevalence of bogus research in global warming. There is not. Anyone who has looked at other fields of science knows that there are fields that are worse than global warming. This tells us something important: the underlying cause of the problem is not specific to global warming.
Good to see this point so clearly made. There is often the question raised : “why don’t other branches of science put pressure on climatology the clean up their act, when it is undermining all of science?”.
Mr Keenan provides the answer.
University academics have been held in awe by society and have largely abused their position of trust. The best thing about Climategate was that has started to lift the lid on they mythical status of this privileged minority.
The wholesale cover up and whitewashing of climategate scientists by the universities and establishment demonstrates, if any doubt remained, that this is not an occasional bad apple but a barrel infested with rot.
The day a large majority of scientists display the rigour and determination of Doug Keenan, science may have a chance of living up to the mythical image that most of society has for it.
Sadly, I fear that life expectancy of our species means I am unlikely to witness such a glorious time.

July 1, 2012 11:16 am

This may be a bit tangential to the topic at hand, but I like to sometimes refer to this checklist:
“What Journalists Want: Nine Things for Scientists to Think about Before Talking to Reporters ”
The article tends to assume that the reporter is generally objective, however. The “Avoid Common Pitfalls” section is especially interesting.

michael hart
July 1, 2012 11:22 am

During, and after, my time as a graduate student I often heard people deserving of great respect cautioning their research groups about the quality of the scientific literature:
“Remember, 90% of it is speculation, exaggeration, not new, BS, or just plain wrong” summarizes the advice given. Perhaps followed by “There may be a useful nugget of information in a bad paper. That’s what you have to learn to spot.”
In my own discipline, I often enjoyed being able to guess what title the authors of a paper would have liked to publish, if the results hadn’t been so unfavourable. That is, the experiment/project was clearly a failure, as judged by it’s original intent, but they were going to publish it any way with a different title. Somehow. Somewhere.
The people who don’t publish bad or disappointing results end up with a thinner CV and possibly no job. Sigh.

John Moore
July 1, 2012 11:28 am

How very interesting that the Plenary Session features the UK’s favourite (?) presenter of the BBC’s Today Programme every morning; he sounds just like he obviously thinks…

michael hart
July 1, 2012 11:59 am

I managed to omit the first two sentences in my previous comment:
I’d support what Henry Clark says about the difficulty in assigning fraud to any particular instance. Proving intent seems very difficult to me.

July 1, 2012 12:03 pm

Forget the scientists, get those crooked (w) bankers.

July 1, 2012 12:11 pm

Fudge factor in UK goes all the way back to mathematician Isaac Newton’s ability to make his experiments seem precisely true by improvising with equinoxes, tides and speed of sound. While he kept to his original data in subsequent re-issues of his famous book “Principia” he finessed it to seem even more exact in proving his theories.

Ally E.
July 1, 2012 2:14 pm

Seriously, reporters need to wake up to what really makes a story. They’re eager enough when it comes to following celebrities about, snapping pictures, but when it comes to REAL investigation, they are a tame and timid bunch. Pathetic.

Ian W
July 1, 2012 2:23 pm

One point he made was that institutions are unlikely to fairly investigate allegations of fraud made against their own researchers
As was also stated this is a problem of accountability. There is only one thing that scares an academic establishment and that is removal of accreditation and removal from government funding. It is unfortunate that the policing of these institutions is on an ‘old boy’ network (American ‘good ol’boy network’) where everyone is under threat of their own misdeeds being shown so assists in cover ups and whitewashes. What is needed is an external entity that has the power to remove accreditation or black list individuals and establishments for research grants or government funding that could should the malfeasance be discovered, pull the plug on the establishment. Anything less than that will be shrugged off as the academic snouts go back into the funding trough there is no scientific integrity any more that has been sold to the highest bidder.

Pamela Gray
July 1, 2012 2:34 pm

So timely. Fudging (the addition of data stiffeners) happens all the time. Change a tepid data point to the right or left to match what you want the data to say. Describe wide error bar making data points as outliers and get rid of them in order to undergird the rest of the data. If tests of significance don’t work, use correlations.
Here’s the money sentence. Tepid saltpetered research results are ripe for the addition of a good hard stiffener. And you can use that sentence at will.

Gary Pearse
July 1, 2012 2:48 pm

Engineers, because they do public works the failure of which commonly causes damage, injury and death (think bridge collapse), are obliged to study ethics and subscribe to a code. This extends beyond doing a good honest job yourself. The engineer is required to report shoddy work done by others on a job that come to his notice, and even to dissuade his client or boss from taking risky paths in design or construction and upon failure of such persons to correct their plans, must report the issue to the association of professional engineers forthwith (you can imagine how dicey this is to do). Top penalty for fraud, incompetence, or acceptance of substandard practice and materials from others is a disciplinary hearing at which one can lose his/her licence to practice engineering. I, and many other engineers,have been called a prima donnas and other things for such intervention but no one in my own experience went ahead with the shoddy work.
The old boy network of science is without this powerful culture of discipline in their work. They are driven by the “publish or perish” dictate and not a few will steal ideas or work from colleagues, or students, will cook results, will gang up against one with scientific ideas that might undermine their own, etc. Failure to keep up a string of publications leads to limits on their careers and funding for their work – a powerful incentive to cheat.. Science evolved from the individual, independent worker (whose names grace our history and our laws of nature) to mission-oriented production science as the field for discovering anything major seems to have shrunk since the first half of the last century. These earlier scientists earned the trust of the public and they risked even their lives to present new, discoveries unwelcome to religious authorities in the early years – no need for a scientific code of ethics. Present day scientists have been living on the reputations of those from the golden age but its clearly past time for scientists to subscribe to and be disciplined by a professional association. The Engineering Acts that set up such associations are acts of legislation by Provinces in Canada and, I believe, by States in the US..

Gary Pearse
July 1, 2012 3:28 pm

gringojay says:
July 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm
“Fudge factor in UK goes all the way back to mathematician Isaac Newton’s ……”
Yeah and Einstein’s work sucked, too. Surely the man who made the largest contributions to date in science and mathematics in the history of humankind in the 1600s at the age of 23 or so should not be derided on WUWT or anywhere else. Let me guess that you heard this from an unhappy, undistinguished university professor, whose only way to shine was to put down the illustrious. I’ve met the type.Newton was a professor at Cambridge at 27yrs old. How, pray, did Newton know how imprecise his ground-breaking discoveries, largely from thought experiments, were. What was the precision of his tools? Even his reflecting telescope (which he invented by the way) would have had aberrations and his timepiece, too. Or are you referring to his laws of motion or his discovery of the spectrum and other optical phenomena. Oh he did say that light was “corpuscular” and subsequently it was found that it was waveform – but then, with the discovery of quantum mechanics, they had to sort of put the corpuscles back as quanta. What amazes me most, Gringojay, is that the shortcomings of Newton stands out so tall with you.

Bruce of Newcastle
July 1, 2012 3:47 pm

The Economist had a very relevant book review a few weeks ago of social psychologist Dan Ariely’s “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty”. In short when you mix money with scientists you can get the same human behaviour as with anyone. This is not specific, it is everywhere and everybody.
A Tissue Of Lies
The amazing thing to me is while we see this problem appearing more and more in fields like psychology, political science and stem cell research, groups like The Economist can’t seem to make the mental leap…what field is it that attracts the most money and the most prestige of all…?
(I’ve been a scientist for three decades…so maybe you should take this comment with a dose of NaCl)

July 1, 2012 3:57 pm

“……negative publicity might bias scientists against doing anything…..”
Evan Davis should be ashamed of himself for making such a fatuous remark.
Advice to students considering science as a vocation:
“…….academic life is a mad hazard….Do you in all conscience believe that you can stand seeing mediocrity after mediocrity, year after year, climb beyond you, without becoming embittered and without coming to grief?
“It would be unfair to hold the personal inferiority of faculty members or educational ministries responsible for the fact that so many mediocrities undoubtedly play an eminent role at the universities.”
Max Webber, Germany (1918)
The Corruption in Academic Economics: Part 1 of INET’s Interview with Charles Ferguson about his book and film ‘Inside Job’.

Ferguson also wrote an article for the Guardian in which he said:
“The problem of academic corruption is now so deeply entrenched that these disciplines, and leading universities, are severely compromised, and anyone considering bucking the trend would rationally be very scared.”
Ivan Pacheco wrote an article last year, Is Academic Corruption on the Rise?
“There is a silent war against academic corruption, and what we see in the media is just the tip of the iceberg. The targets include lazy students cheating on term papers; wannabe doctors cheating on exams, research and publications……..”
Jennifer Washburn has had a book published titled, University, Inc: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education. It’s about the “growing influence of corporations over universities” affecting “more than just today’s university students (and their parents); it compromises all those who will be employed, governed or taught by the products of American universities“.
The principles could just as easily apply to science and government funded research. The solution, contrary to what Evan Davis thinks, is to shine a bright light on the work of scientists and enable the truly honest and brilliant to rise to the top.

July 1, 2012 4:08 pm
July 1, 2012 5:05 pm

If you want a more humorous look at academic dishonestry, read Jules Berman’s book “Machiavelli’s Laboratory”:

July 1, 2012 5:24 pm

Hi Gary Pearse,
see 1973 “Science”, vol. 179 by Richard Westfall titled “Newton and the Fudge Factor” who says “If the “Principia” established the quantitative pattern of modern science, it equally suggested a less sublime truth – that no one can manipulate the fudge factor quite so effectively as the master mathematician himself …. a cloud of exquisitely powdered fudge factor blown in the eyes of his scientific opponents.”
Einstein once said to physicist Werner Heisenberg it is “… quite wrong to try founding a theory on
observable magnitudes alone. In reality the very opposite happens. It is the theory which decides what we can observe.”
Showing this about those 2 men is not to say they were not scientific greats.

Old Ranga from Oz
July 1, 2012 6:17 pm

Anaesthesiologists (anaesthetists here in Oz) have the best b/s detectors going. Nice guys as well, focussing first and last on the safety of their patients. Remember the stubborn one in Bristol (UK) who blew the whistle on a paediatric surgeon because child patients were dying – and then finished up working out here in Oz because his professional life was made untenable?
We were fortunate to get him.

Gary Pearse
July 1, 2012 6:17 pm

Hello Gringojay,
I owe you a big apology for an unwarranted inference, sorry. It would be nice to know, though, what was glossed over with F=Gm1m2/d^2 or his laws of motion. Einstein only found relatively minor corrections to fit his modified gravity – he didn’t seem to be snowed by Newton’s fudges. Even Einstein can be excused in part for his remark you quoted since much of his stuff was in thought experiments – it must have seemed a magical fantasy until corroborated by empirical measurement at a later date. Einstein was not fetted and welcomed in his early years. They were both in their twenties, so I will excuse them this time.

July 1, 2012 7:01 pm

“Aldhous explained how a journalist might have to put in as much time to get a story about fraud as to get, say, 75 stories about usual science. From a business perspective, that is obviously a serious problem.”
From a business perspective, they seem to deal with it by featuring “investigative reports” as exclusive in-depth stories and using them to attract viewers/readers.

Old Ranga from Oz
Reply to  AnonyMoose
July 1, 2012 7:42 pm

With respect, if a fraud story is properly investigated and carefully written, does it matter how it’s presented? Nothing wrong with (accurate) marketing to attract viewers/readers. Media companies are businesses, and if they don’t make money they fold. And we all lose.

Bob Ryan
July 1, 2012 11:37 pm

The problem is the naive belief that scientists seek the truth. They don’t – they seek reputation. Reputation is the capital stock of scientific and academic life. That is the way it is, that is the way it has always been.

Geoff Sherrington
July 2, 2012 4:38 am

Just this morning, a retired prominent football coach had a penetrating analysis of sports journalism in Oz. He explained that the journalist was paid to tell a story of his/her interpretation, with material derived form observing rather than participation. The suggestion was that the reporter who had not ever played the game at top level could not report adequately on the game.
Good point.
Perhaps the moral of the story above is that science reporters ought to have distinguished careers in science beforehand. Then and only then would they be able to transmit the essential messages to the public.
If you read back through WUWT, there is a great deal of social commentary mixed with the scientific commentary. I presume that the latter is largely contributed by scientists.
However, I would not know, because I have never been trained in journalism.

July 2, 2012 5:30 am

Thank you for writing and providing this overview of the conference.
The naivety is so extreme that I suspect it must be partially willful
A very fine lecturer who taught research methodologies rang me a few days before he died. Before submitting, I had posted offhand a course paper for his opinion, which I valued. He had responded, however due to the time factor which did differentiate my remote life from a city life I was unable to incorporate our further discussion into my submitted paper. After the marking [and fail] of the paper, he had offered to take the matter further up the hierarchy. But I had not understood at the time and said, ‘don’t worry’. This I learned much later was very poor judgement. I had already paid upfront for the subject and the lecturer mark of a fail was not a big issue for me save for the fact I wrote what I had observed and had critiqued of the research produced over many years. The paper had been sent and co-marked by the subject lecturer (later a Professor) and had been sent to an overseas Professor. I knew I had written the facts on the subject matter requested.
This all came as the sharp and awful smack against the wall, in the city environs I later encountered. I had lived and worked in remote Australia over many years underneath a superstructure of selective variables in the research industry and thus policy, and these young men had no choice but suicide (or were murdered before that awful choice they undertook), The art of surrealism I later encountered, and realised fomented and marketed in the city took greater meaning.
It may be unfortunate that I can never forget these individuals and events that led to their deaths, and my lecturer, who previously had the courage as a practicing Catholic brother to take public stance on theological ground with The Pope, and these young men, who had the courage to take stance against ’the academic industry and their elders’.
However, the opportunity to speak freely as an individual is something that has stayed, and honoured are these unknown men, always these men that died, because they chose to speak up. And all paid the human price, for speaking out.

Hugh K
July 2, 2012 9:24 am

Thank you for the very insightful report.
It is odd that a discussion about academic dishonestry would not mention the recent Sandusky/Penn State scandal. The scandal paints a vivid picture of how academia choose to circle the wagons around one of their own rather than get to the truth.
An employee at the university discovers misconduct by a fellow employee and struggles with what to do (he calls his dad for advice) and eventually takes the morally correct action of reporting the incident to his superiors. From there the scandal is covered up by several individuals at the highest levels including the president of the university for ten long years where more innocent victims are physically and emotionally traumatized. The scandal is hushed up supposedly because as university president Spanier writes in a disclosed email; “The approach [to keep the situation an internal affair] you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”
How eerily similar this sounds to BBC journalist Evan Davis’ remark; “exposure [of fraud] is not a very good goal”. So much for accountability by those reporting on academia. It is obvious some “journalists” refuse to seperate themselves from academic goupthink, even to the peril of our most defenseless.

Luther Bl't
July 2, 2012 11:59 am

Paul Vaughan says:
July 1, 2012 at 8:50 am
“‘institutions unlikely to fairly investigate allegations of fraud made against their own’”
External review works the same way. The collegiality knows no geographic boundaries. It’s a universal brotherhood.
Perhaps by “external review” you mean other institutions in the same field? Otherwise your view is unredeemable from pessimism. Yet there is clearly something wrong with institutions. The Stephen Lawrence murder case inquiry pointed at something (arguably mislabeling it). There is a view of prisons as schools for recidivism. Etc. Logic then suggests a reform of the concept of an institution. Higher education in any case is overdue for reform.

Paul Vaughan
July 3, 2012 7:31 pm

Luther Bl’t (July 2, 2012 at 11:59 am) suggested:
“Higher education in any case is overdue for reform.”

Agree. A difficult task. I would like to be involved.

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