Behind The Black Postings By Robert Zimmerman

The sad state of modern science

Two stories today illustrate the levels of corruption that now percolate through many fields of science, helped by a willing and sometimes ignorant press.

First, a final report has been issued in the investigation into the fraudulent research of social psychologist Diederik Stapel. Sadly, it appears the report condemns the entire field:

[The investigators] paint an image of a “sloppy” research culture in which some scientists don’t understand the essentials of statistics, journal-selected article reviewers encourage researchers to leave unwelcome data out of their papers, and even the most prestigious journals print results that are obviously too good to be true.

Worse, three different universities participated in Stapel’s fraud, and never noticed. At least 25 of Stapel’s papers have now been retracted.

Then there is this article about an investigation into the lack of scientific merit of a paper that claimed that genetically modified maize caused tumors in rats. Apparently, according to European scientific authorities, the paper had no merit and did not meet the basics of scientific research. Nor was this investigation the first to come to this conclusion.

First, that the paper got published in a peer reviewed journal in the first place says a great deal about that journal’s standards. Second, when first published the paper had been condemned immediately but a number of scientists. yet it apparently received tons of adoring press coverage, probably because it provided evidence for the politically correct position that genetically modified agriculture is bad. Both facts suggest that this is another case, similar to that of the climate field, where scientists allowed politics to badly influence their judgement.

All in all, not a good day for science and its reputation.

9 Comments
  1. Mark Bach says:

    I am a history teacher trying to reach Robert Zimmerman who is featured on this site. An 8th grade student is doing her National History Day project on Apollo 8 and would love to contact Mr. Zimmerman and ask some questions via email. Let me know if any contact information is available. Thank You.

    Mark Bach
    International Community School
    Kirkland WA

    • wodun says:

      His email is at the bottom of the about section.

  2. Patrick Ritchie says:

    Two comments.

    I saw the rat tumor article used in local consumer protection magazine here in Quebec, it was taken as “proof” that GM crops are a danger to us all. A simple Google search on the papers title immediately uncovered the issues with the paper. The web version of the article has now contains an update at the bottom of the page pointing to a couple articles that point out the issues with the study.

    But, the title of your post states: ‘The sad state of modern science’. Is you point that the state of things today is somehow worse than in the past? Or merely that it could be improved upon?

    Although this is indeed a sad state of affairs, I don’t expect it is worse than pre-modern times. In fact, I would expect the state to be improving, partly through public awareness made possible by venues such as this blog.

    • There has been a decline in the state of science since the mid-twentieth century. The kind of fraud that allowed Diederik Stapel to publish numerous papers unchecked could not have happened fifty years ago. There was fraud, but nothing so extensive and long lasting.

      Moreover, the level of ignorance of the press as well as the willingness of scientists and reporters to let their agendas run hog wild, regardless of the facts, has gotten way out of control, and is far worse than it was forty years ago. More importantly, too many people in these fields don’t seem to care anymore if fraud is exposed. Witness the willingness of the climate science field to close their eyes to the corruption exposed by the climategate emails.

      Similarly, plagerism and made-up news stories were once extremely rare events in journalism. When they happened, they were big news, and resulted in the immediate end to the career of the journalist who did it. Today however, the entire field shrugs its shoulders and the guilty parties continue their careers as if nothing happened. And it happens now frequently, much more than in the past.

      • Patrick Ritchie says:

        Do you have data to back up these claims?

        • Pzatchok says:

          Isn’t that like asking to prove a negative.

          • Patrick Ritchie says:

            No, and I was not asking for proof. I am asking what data Bob used to form his opinion.

            30 minutes with Google provided the following articles:

            Science publishing: The trouble with retractions

            Scientific fraud is rife: it’s time to stand up for good science

            Retraction Watch

            Based on these it is safe to say that the number of retractions of scientific papers is rising faster than the rate of publication. The data on the reason for retraction is murkier, but it would appear the proportion of papers retracted due to misconduct is also on the rise.

            This leads more questions: Is the rise of retractions an indication of more fraud? Or better fraud detection mechanisms?

  3. Pzatchok says:

    Glad you found your own proof. Sorry, data.

    More periodicals to publish papers in means they are all looking for more articles to publish.
    Thus they are accepting far more junk just to fill up space and not doing their own due diligence to check for simple errors in the papers.

    Plus I bet some publications have been started with the unscientific purpose of printing papers and articles just to push a political opinion. All so that Prof Crackpot and his friends can say they were published and thus so they can then reference those articles in their own papers and thus look far more professional and believable.

    Almost every global warming paper printed in the last 15 years still references the same three, since disproved, articles. That hockey stick is still floating around.

  4. Md hasan says:

    it is a very nice blog.
    science

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