Would Scientists Lie?

Would Scientists Lie?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
April 7, 2006

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports today that a large percentage of research scientists admit to fabricating or manipulating data because of a sense of “being wronged.”

Reporter Lila Guterman explains that The Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics will report that “perceived injustice” and scientific misbehavior are linked.

From the article:

Raymond G. De Vries, an associate professor of medical education at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and three colleagues last year reported surveying more than 3,000 scientists about whether they had ever engaged in misbehavior, such as changing a study because of pressure from a source of funds, or failing to present data that contradict one’s own research. One-third of the scientists acknowledged they had committed some form of research misbehavior.

“Why are people engaging in these behaviors that they feel uncomfortable about?” Mr. De Vries and his colleagues wondered. “There’s something about the way science is organized that is putting these people under pressure.”


When scientists perceive injustice in their workplace, particularly regarding how rewards are distributed, they are more likely to compromise their integrity, the researchers found.

What’s more, the correlation is stronger for scientists whose “scientific identity is vulnerable,” Mr. De Vries said. Younger researchers and women in male-dominated fields were more likely to respond to perceived injustices by cutting corners.

The authors of the ethics paper caution that, as a result of such pressures, simple training in ethics at individual institutions may not be enough to encourage scientists to play by the rules. Instead, journal editors, peer reviewers, and leaders of professional societies must find ways to judge work fairly and bestow rewards based on merit, not simply because of a research project’s “glamour” or grant size.

The article is of interest primarily because it details the extensiveness of scientific misconduct. Our society tends to place inordinate trust in science and in scientists, assuming that the scientific method effectively removes the risk of misbehavior. In a fallen world, this could never be true. The Korean stem cell and cloning scandal should be sufficient warning. This article brings the issue much closer to home.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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