Science and the assumption of honesty

When reviewers read a manuscript, they assume that the data presented are based on experiments actually carried out and that results obtained have been reported accurately.

They will also assume that the results reported are typical, and not the one time the experiment "worked" the way the authors wanted it to!

To convince themselves of this, the reviewers will look for inconsistencies, including whether authors had the time or resources to do.


"Conduct and misconduct in science"
"What ever happened to cold fusion?"
by David Goodstein


There are two types of fraud in science: negligence and dishonesty.

Negligence implies that key experiments were either not performed, not reported, or not reported in sufficient detail.  A variation of negligence is the failure to acknowledge (and by implication, claim as your own) the ideas of others.

The reviewers generally, but not always, "catch" such shortcomings.

Dishonesty or fraud is much more difficult to detect, particularly if it is carried out by a clever person.  Fraud is a serious problem particularly in the biomedical sciences, where it may influence therapeutic decisions.


Science is based on the assumption of honesty, and most scientists are honest most of the time.  This makes most scientists quite gullible - they assume every one is telling the truth.

The tacit assumption of honesty can make scientists relatively easy to trick, a fact not lost on certain unscrupulous people.

  The psychology of gullibility by Christina Valhouli
Medical fraud

We will consider questions on honesty, politics, and concensus in class. read articles: Blondlot & his imaginary N-Rays 
and : DDT and malaria Truth versus Propaganda - M. Critchton

  • What forces would lead to a young scientist to falsify data?
  • How is it possible that the head of the lab would not recognize data as false?
  • How is it possible that N-rays are not real?
  • What were the effects of the ban on DDT? 
  • Was the ban scientifically justified? Was the ban ethically justified?

Use Wikipedia | revised 19 November 2010