Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Australian Doctor for 5 May 2006 has an interesting opinion piece from Dr Kerri Parnell on "Research fraud tarnishing science community's image".

Dr Parnell relates two recent cases of high profile scientific fraud: that of Dr Hwang Woo-suk (who, as most readers will know, fabricated the results of his claims about his stem cell research); and a study by Dr Jon Sudbo published in The Lancet in October 2005 which showed that long term use of NSAIDS was associated with a lower risk of oral cancer (again, all the details were fabricated).

These cases of fraud not only created a sizable stir in the scientific community, but spilled over into the international media and, in the eyes of many, severely tarnished the image of science and scientists.

Yet, EoR sees this as a affirmation of science. It was scientists who initially publicised the fraud, and it was the scientific community who were advised about the fraud and forced to reassess their standards. As Dr Parnell concludes:
One of the biggest worries, say Snyder and Loring in the NEJM, is that such goings-on reinforce the public's view that scientists can't be trusted. But it's a fact of life that "rogues, though rare, are as much of a fact of life in science as in any other endeavour".

So, while we can't be certain that anything scientists publish is not fraudulent, the very nature of the scientific process (peer-review, however poor; replication of experimental findings; being open to scrutiny) provides its own corrective measures. The scientific process may not be perfect, but it is the best method we have yet found to determine how things work.

These cases probably haven't affected the confirmed alternatista's view of science and scientists, but EoR contrasts what has happened to how the alternatistas handle their "discoveries" and "knowledge". Fraud is unknown in their world (indeed, how could it be when they deal with nonexistent entities such as qi, prana, reiki, auras and so on?). Knowledge, also, does not advance. It's impossible to disprove the unprovable, and the whole edicice of alternative beliefs rests on the shaky foundations of, if not fraudulent, at the very least false and unfounded beliefs. Studies are generally not done or needed (for a variety of offered reasons: cannot be tested, too expensive, too busy and so on). Where they are conducted (usually by scientists) they are lauded if confirmatory, and strenuously criticised if negative.

Is fraud in science a bad thing? Of course. Can it be eliminated? Of course not. But at least science is awake to the possibility, and a little more alert now than before. Other belief systems are not nearly so rigourous.

1 comment:

  1. Would Dr Hwang Woo-suk and Dr Jon Sudbo be in this sort of trouble if they'd followed Dr Emoto's strategy? If you are seeking fame and fortune under the umbrella of science it pays to publish through regular channels and stay away from pesky nit-picking scientific journals.

    Good point re fraud exposure being an affirmation of science.


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