Thursday, November 03, 2011
Diederik Stapel (pictured above) was the dean of the social and behavioral sciences faculty of the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. He was fired this week for fabricating data which he used to support research papers which he published.
His general method towards the end of his career was to develop a complete experiment at the level of theory, hypotheses, methods, stimuli, questionnaires, and even participants' rewards and to then pretend to run the experiments at schools which only he had access to. Instead of doing so, he would make up the data and send these to colleagues for further analysis.
In other words, the scientific publications of a distinguished researcher were in fact purely works of fiction.
Some people will say that this event actually reinforces the validity of science, because it proves that "science is self correcting" and fakes are always quickly caught. However that isn't true. It just proves that this guy got caught, however we have no idea how many cleverer or luckier people are not.
The New York Times quotes Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara as saying “The big problem is that the culture is such that researchers spin their work in a way that tells a prettier story than what they really found. It's almost like everyone is on steroids, and to compete you have to take steroids as well.” In other words, like athletes, scientists have to cheat to succeed professionally. This is not encouraging.
I think that it would be more honest and accurate to be more careful with the word "science", a word which I believe has carried so much prestige since the 1870s and the life saving breakthroughs of Louis Pasteur.
Physics, chemistry and medicine are based on exact, repeatable laboratory experiments which make fraud unlikely. These fields win Nobel Prizes and have greatly enhanced and lengthened our lives. These fields should be called "science" and their practitioners called "scientists".
Astronomy, geology, paleontology and biology should be called "natural philosophy" and practitioners would be called "natural philosophers".
Psychology, sociology, archeology, literature, art, history and economics should be called "humanities" and practitioners would be called "human researchers".
Posted by jewish philosopher at 12:13 PM