The unholy lust of scientists

Here’s a thought-provoking op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle about the dangers of the pressure cooker that is cutting-edge science. Oderberg makes some very good points, especially about the prevalence of scientific fraud. I have become quite a cynic about “hot” research, even well before the Korean stem-cell fraud. Even in my own lab, we’ve had serious problems reproducing data that look crystal clear in others’ publications. There are any number of ways of making your data “look” better, even if you aren’t fabricating it. Dishonesty is almost institutionalized it seems–and the higher the stakes of the research, I suppose the more likely that is to occur. I was not a bit surprised when Dr. Hwang’s research was debunked.

Since our society treats scientists as secular high priests, and scientific knowledge as the successor to the Bible as far as truth is concerned, the reality that quite a bit of what passes as research is not as accurate as it could be should be terrifying. It would be a very good thing for the world of science if Dr. Hwang were indeed the tip of an iceberg–this should provoke a scandal every bit as big as priestly child abuse, because it may have even greater ramifications for our lives. And, if science is knocked off its pedestal, what will take its place, because mankind must have authority?

(HT: Julie D.)

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