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Prosecute scientific misconduct

Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal and an expert on peer review, has called for scientific misconduct to be criminalised:

After 30 years of observing how science deals with the problem, I have sadly come to the conclusion that it should be a crime, for three main reasons. First, in a lot of cases, people have been given substantial grants to do honest research, so it really is no different from financial fraud or theft. Second, we have a whole criminal justice system that is in the business of gathering and weighing evidence – which universities and other employers of researchers are not very good at. And finally, science itself has failed to deal adequately with research misconduct.

The point about fraud and research grants is an interesting one. Would it be possible to prosecute people under existing common and statute law? My guess is that it wouldn't be. And if we need new laws, how exactly would you frame them? Perhaps readers with legal qualifications can provide some clarity.

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Reader Comments (57)

Just last month: “A former scientist at Iowa State University pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he falsified research for an AIDS vaccine to secure millions of dollars in federal funding, the Associated Press reported.

The scientist, Dong-Pyou Han, resigned from his post as an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Iowa State last fall after admitting responsibility for fraudulent findings in the case.

Mr. Han faces four felony counts of making false statements, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He was released on bond after his appearance in U.S. District Court in Des Moines, pending a trial scheduled for September.”

Sep 16, 2014 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterNikFromNYC

Three very good reasons but

Second, we have a whole criminal justice system that is in the business of gathering and weighing evidence – which universities and other employers of researchers are not very good at.

is for me the clincher.

Sep 16, 2014 at 9:39 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Oh - just to have the subject aired gives me cause to be ever-so-slightly optimistic...

Sep 16, 2014 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

I'm in the academia. The man is right.

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Well, it is obtaining money by deception, and there's no exception for people masquerading as scientists.


Sep 16, 2014 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Fraud is Fraud and should be prosecuted where evidence can be obtained. Scientific claims such as MGW should be tested using legal rules of evidence instead of peer (pal) review.

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

Academics use weasel words more than any other group so they cannot be rounded on by fellow academics. That means they are also immune from any charge of fraud.

The next issue is obtaining funds by false pretences. In other words, the prospectus was wrong. But to be prosecuted on that basis they would have to do no work.

So, we are left with the only real sanction; self-policing. However, that broke down in the atmospheric sciences 30 year ago when honest science was driven out by activists backed by corrupt politicians.

Therefore the only option left is to kick out the dishonest politicians. But then we'd have no government!

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

"Fraud is Fraud and should be prosecuted where evidence can be obtained."
"Scientific claims such as MGW should be tested using legal rules of evidence instead of peer (pal) review."
Nonsense, just as daft as reliance on "consensus".
BTW Scientific claims are tested by replication, not review.

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

If a scientist is paid to produce results to order, as in policy-led evidence-making, then there may be a case for charges of fraud if an ordinary commercial relationship can be shown to have existed (no easy task I suspect). But surely some grants are placed in ways more like betting on horses which the grantors think look likely to perform well. If they don't, that's their look out. They may be more careful next time, and other grant awarders may, if information flows well enough, be more wary of a particular grantee and/or his or her department in future. So the question then becomes, just how many research grants are made in the expectation of particular results favourable to some political cause or other, such as for example those riding on the back of climate scaremongering? Therein lies the rub. Does the funder of a piece of fraud share some of the blame?

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:54 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Skeptical Chymist

One case in point is the famous “Monkey Trail” which helped to establish Darwin’s Theories. Many scientific claims are based on lies and fabrication. Harmful polices are then implemented by politicians. e.g. There is no evidence that global temperature increase is caused to any substantial degree by man made emissions of CO2 yet very harmful policies have been implemented on the back of this “theory”. I maintain that if the claims has been tested using rules of evidence these very harmful measures could have been avoided. How do you replicate the theories associated with climate ?

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

I think turnedoutnice has it right. Scientists are increasingly vague about what they intend to discover so it would be very hard to say that they had deviated from their aims. Journals collude with science to make it increasingly poor. More papers = more publishers. Win/win. Certain 'sciences' are almost entirely subjective and can't be tested for accuracy let alone fraud.

Yes, scientists should be open to prosecution but to do so would require someone to tighten the rules about how science is conducted and then police the result. Punishments need to be laid out in advance not applied at random. Would the punishment depend upon grant size, corruption level or importance of the science itself? eg would a small fraud in climate science or medecine be equal to a big fraud in astro physics? Would a small deviation for a million pound grant be the same as complete fabrication under a thousand pound grant?

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I don't see how you can test scientific claims under the rules of evidence. Essentially that is the consensus at work.
In most scientific fields there is a consensus because those views are correct. We all acknowledge that there comes a time when those views are challenged (the examples usually quoted are tectonic plates and gastric ulcers) and there are probably other examples that will surface in the fulness of time but until someone with a bee in his bonnet and the tenacity of a leech and the hide of a rhinoceros is prepared to make himself mightily unpopular the law of gravity and the theory of evolution are likely to remain largely unchallenged.
On the other hand there are fields where there is sufficient incentive for researchers to make a name for themselves by re-interpreting existing work (some aspects of medical research provide an obvious example) or where there is a reliance on models to the virtual exclusion of observations (and climate research is a case in point).
Certainly fraud should be prosecuted but how are you going to define it? If government pays for research into alternative fuels for nuclear energy — not just thorium but, say, zinc or silicon or any other substance you care to guess at — what happens if your research fails to find any practicable fuel but does come up with a cure for the common cold? And how long can you legitimately spin out your grant for? It would be fraud if it became clear within a year that you were up a blind alley but you failed to publish that fact but even that might be a little difficult to prove, especially if your computer models were showing that in certain conditions it might be possible to get positive results.
Can of worms, I'm afraid!

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:03 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

It should make people aware that research work should be able to be audited, even if only a tiny little bit, so throwing away original notes (without recording them on a 'better' medium) would be significant. And the reasons for taking a different course of action, and spending money, should have been noted somewhere! One would hope that discussions should have taken place as well, with minutes, you know, like Blair used to in Cabinet (oh, sorry ....).

It is the only way that history can be recorded correctly. I hope police constables still carry a notebook in which to write the critical statements at the time of uttering - they still do on TV.

Much of the problem at the UEA has been that there has been little evidence of anything much at all, so little cause for any action to uphold professional standards, assuming that climate scientists want to be considered professional.

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:05 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Climate science seems to in a league of its own. Think of the huge number of papers we see where a cursory glance shows that the work is garbage. Usually it involves models simulating something using cherry picked aspects from the extreme end of projections from other models. The purpose is to produce false cause for alarm in order to generate more funding.

In industry, R&D tends to promise large benefits and in return receives funding. However, each project gets monitored pretty closely and failed projects are scrutinised. Failure is allowed, but multiple failures are usually career stoppers.

I wonder to what extent funding bodies in academia audit the value and quality of the work carried out. Do they look at the on-going track record of the funding recipient? Simply comparing what was promised with what was delivered would be a good start.

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Scientific malpractice is reporting the "results" of experiments you didn't do, or reporting that experiments you did do gave different results from those you found. This is financial fraud and should be prosecuted as criminality.
Most of the things alluded to above are overinterpretation, mistakes from unacknowledged bias of several kinds and so on. For a while now I have been worried that there is an emerging anti-scientist theme at BH. With one side hanging "deniers" and the other now hanging scientists, will the gallows be wide enough?

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

Skeptical: Very well said. When we overstate we wreck our case and our credibility. At which point the suspicious-minded are bound to wonder about dirty tricks.

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

@John Shade
Either all parties to be put in the stocks for a period of not less than one week, or...

The funder has no control over the scientists' / researchers' fraud, therefore the funder should suffer no more than public opprobrium, and name recognition in all of academia as the funder for confirmatory policy-led evidence-making and not real scientific research.
The funder is naturally ineligible for any refund on their research funding loss, as these of course go to the academic institution whose reputation has been tarnished.

The fraudulent scientists/researchers should be met with the full force of the law, with only maximum tariffs available for the courts to impose in sentencing. Also they should be stripped of all funding (including pensions), removed from current post, and removed from all academic research posts (including peer-review) both nationally and internationally, for life.
They would however be allowed to claim jobseekers benefits - subject to strict means testing.

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

The problem with this proposal is that it will give final authority to a judicial system which is badly equipped and technically incapable to decide who is right or wrong in scientific/medical disputes. A judicial system which is prone to "misconduct" by sheer ignorance. Judges would have to rely on independent and proven "experts" (e.g. Wegmann in Mann case).

How would such a charge against the IPCC work? I presume that the majority of the grant receiving scientists have done their work in good faith and according to scientific standards. None of these individual studies could find proof that AGW posed a threat to humanity, because each of these studies was only about certain aspects (glaciers, temperature, drought, hurricanes, sea level, models, etc. It's the IPCC which in the end compiled the individual inputs and came up with the overall conclusion about the State of the Planet. If judges had to decide whether the IPCC was misleading, who would they call on as independent experts?

Richard Smith, while in charge of the BMJ, had the temerity to publish one of the largest epidemiological studies (Enstrom, Kabat) on the effects of second hand smoke. The study came to the conclusion that there was no significant effect and was in harsh contradiction to the establishment ("the Team", generously sponsored by governments). Smith justified the publication by the fact that the editorial team of the BMJ had not found any flaws in the study and therefore had no reason to reject it.Courageous man!

Judith Curry has more on this subject:

Sep 16, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered Commenterbenpal

Academia is empire building just like any other activity. No university does not want to do research. It raises status, brings in funds. But crap univs (most of them) have to rely on crap people. Thus a dimwit like Phil Jones (first degree at Univ Lancaster ie he had brains of a frog) goes off to do research at UEA. Why be surprised that his research involves major failures in logic and that, in a newly established place, there was no tradition/rules/concept of properly curating one's findings - data getting 'lost'????!!!!!

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

@Schrodinger's Cat: "I wonder to what extent funding bodies in academia audit the value and quality of the work carried out. Do they look at the on-going track record of the funding recipient? Simply comparing what was promised with what was delivered would be a good start."
In many cases, it's the funding bodies that are biased and of course they will be happy to confirm that the delivery was on target if it suits their bias. And they will make damned sure they chose the right person to deliver what they want.

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterbenpal

First, there are some reasonably good definitions of fraud (see one article here:

--(quote snip from above)
A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury.

Fraud is commonly understood as dishonesty calculated for advantage. A person who is dishonest may be called a fraud. In the U.S. legal system, fraud is a specific offense with certain features.
--(end snip)

In the English system, each crime has "elements". Read the above link for those involving fraud. The "mens re" element of proving the mental state of the perp is a really, really big issue. I.E., even if all the other elements are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it's still difficult to prove the mental state of the person. Also, what if the person charged enters a defense that they're baying at the moon, barking made, soap advers, loon nutters?

Even in the Mann v The World cases, hiding and/or seeking to hide facts (all those emails), is, of itself, not sufficient. One can construct a case that allows a jury to use other circumstantial facts to imply the mental state but until you find evidence (in the legal meaning) of the AGW folks declaring they know they're lying and expect to reap huge profits (or such), then one is simply to, if possible, pursue a civil suit. Even the State of Virginia failed to obtain the Mann emails. To underscore the point, Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI) had to pay $250 in damages Mann and the school when EELI lost a suit just trying to obtain Mann’s emails.

Moslty, it seems, the climage AGW alarmists and politicians share the same boat regarding facts. Oh, and it seems these two groups do want to put those that disagree with them in prison. Check out the definition of irony.

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

"Misconduct in public office" seems to have a wide application - even being used to prosecute people for things that would not otherwise be criminal - eg a policewoman moonlighting as a hooker.

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:14 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Maybe a representative of the tax payer should audit large funding awards where public money is used. This would involve looking at the application, the funding decision process and the outcome.

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Unworkable! The big problem is in the PR department where they freely invent findings that weren't in the actual papers. Then the journalists add some more spin and pretty soon a 50/50 chance described as a mere weasel-worded possibility in the paper is hyped to probability then irrefutable certainly in a heartbeat, which then leads to more funding for entirely reasonable further investigation that often concludes that there was no initial problem anyway. Alas the weaselliness of the original papers remains untouchable - because they can reasonably argue that they did mention the caveats and uncertainties but everyone else just ignored them.

Of course we know that self-policing is an absolute impossibility but I'd prefer independent scintific reviews - or indeed anything that didn't enrich lawyers & retired judges who are almost entirely ignorant of the science and whose main objective is to spin things out as long as possible becasue they are on megabucks per day. Notwithstanding that many recent judgments have shown that most of our judges are either politically correct to a ridiculous extent or outright senile.

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Skeptical Chymist on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:48 AM

"Most of the things alluded to above are overinterpretation, mistakes from unacknowledged bias of several kinds and so on."

Yes, but what of the rest? What about the massaging of data, then throwing away the original documents, a la UEA CRU? Losing the original records wasn't even an accident, such as a fire. It was gross mismanagement, and very convenient!

The medical profession would not accept that for case notes, or the HMRC for annual tax returns, no matter how small!

At least with most Physics experiments they can be repeated, at extra expense, but historic readings are lost forever!

There shouldn't need to be fraud shown, just incompetence! Showing misconduct, whether intentional or not, would mean that their conclusions would have no credibility. Isn't that the most important goal - to be able to highlight results and conclusions that are not credible, so others are forced to take note, especially the gatekeepers for public funds?

The problem we have now is that it is so hard to show evil intent, and that results caused by, or explained by :) , pure incompetence are quite acceptable to those who like the results produced.

Sep 16, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Not quite the same but we should recall that recently Italian scientists were successfully prosecuted for bad earthquake advice. The point being that political prosecutions do happen and in any case wouldn't necessarily put the "right" people in the dock. In the UK we have plenty of examples of people being imprisoned for offences that they didn't commit.

I'm not overeager to give the state more power to prosecute the "out group".

Sep 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterTDK

I am used to contracting for a deliverable with T&C's attached.Contract requirements!

If anything is wrong with the deliverable...penalties follow. The allocation of grants to various organisations is likely open ended in this case and may not be subject to independent/customer audit.Does anybody know for sure?, The money is either borrowed or forced from taxpayers. Either way, what's been achieved is contentious.

Sep 16, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Mike Jackson,
It is indeed a can of worms.
However, some progress is possible.
Presently, there is a lack of mechanisms to examine suspected fraud.
A mechanism should have threat of punishment.
Then, the perp can have a forum to plead guilty or not. We don't even have that yet.
I think that in some cases the guilty will throw in the towel. That is progress, not much, but some.
Personally, I am very anti the court of science concept where a judge determines if science is correct.
Much can be gained by a judge who works on grants and funding expectations, rather than the science.

I have tried to get a major body that hands out grants to state its policy re papers that were retracted.
Should funding be repaid for a fail?
If there was a policy, they were reluctant to state it. I was no wiser.
But, should the taxpayer pick up the bill for defective work?
I think not. It is all too cozy and in house at present.

Sep 16, 2014 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

"For a while now I have been worried that there is an emerging anti-scientist theme at BH." Skeptical Chymist

Science is beginning to reap the reputation it has created. When the majority of any sector ignore the bad behaviour of some of its members, then the tarnish spreads. When the rot gets too bad, independent regulation is the only answer. I'm sure that there are good scientists out there but then there are good politicians, estate agents and journalists too.

Sep 16, 2014 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

The measures suggested to put science right are the result of the corruption of some fields of study by the climate charlatans. Climate science should be put in the dock and given a rigorous cross examination. Only then will the majority of it be seen for what it is: politically endorsed activism masquerading as science. Sadly, as discussions like this show, the hard won reputation of the whole of science is being dragged down to the level of climate science by a significant number of shameless liars.
If the malignant cancer of climate science methodology spreads unchecked the future of mankind will be bleak.

Sep 16, 2014 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

More from Down Under, where some (not me) are claiming BOM fraud about adjustments to the temperature record.
Adjustment, however viewed, is a major, unresolved problem in climate work.
If you dig into the Argo sites about temperature measurements, you find that they have to be corrected for pressure measurements. Some past records have presure problems, some there are 2 sets of data, one raw flagged as problematic and one adjusted. The adjustment processes include some subjective stages. It is hard to accept calculations like Ocean Heat Content when you can read that there is sometimes guesswork.
In principle, the Argo data can be regarded by some as fraudulent.
It is indeed a can of worms.
If only scientists had been properly taught how to calculate errors.

Sep 16, 2014 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

re Robert Christopher: If a scientist refuses to supply his original data to other scientists (without good reason) then they are likely to disregard his work. The "commercial value added" problem is a result of pressure to monetize research from government and other granting bodies and can really only be corrected by a cultural shift in the paymasters.
re TinyCO2: I agree that scientists ought to have spoken out about the travesties in the field of climate change. The pressures that prevented it have been commented on at length. I think there are cracks in the dam now.

Here at BH, I hope for a more nuanced critique of the motives of scientists. Those I know really could be far better off doing something else.

Sep 16, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

A very bad idea except in overt cases of data fabrication on a grant. The danger is that the people with power will prosecute heretics, like they did to Lomborg--remember? Or the geologists in Italy convicted last year. Furthermore, the objectivity of science is vastly overestimated, such that those with a particular point of view tend to view their opponents as frauds and liars and are unable to be objective about their own subjectivity. This is true in medicine, psychology, criminal justice, economics, climate change, you name it. The debates get heated and it is truly best to keep the law out of it.

Sep 16, 2014 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterCraig Loehle

Skeptical Chymist, to be fair, it's not just climate scientists and most of the rot isn't about motive, it's about prodedure.

Sep 16, 2014 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

This is another incremental cost of the climate obsession:
Wealthy benefactors are not funding actual research to a large extent they are funding non-productive political activism to impose ideas on hte public square.
Branson, with his $300 million that was squandered on phony green causes, could have built a huge telescope, a medical research center, a solution for much of the world's shortage of good drinking water, cleaner burning coal plants, or who knows what? Instead it went into yet another of the endless scams the climate obsessed are sniveling about.

Sep 16, 2014 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

The Climate Fraud is about flooding the literature with useless papers to pretend the subject is peer reviewed. The motherlode is Sagan and Pollock 1965 which claims the Venusian surface emits net IR to the atmosphere at the black body rate. However, to do the two-stream calculation, they assumed about 7x real energy input from the Sun. This was complete failure of the aerosol optical physics, to assume a single process when there are two.

However, Climate Alchemy claims right by peer review, the new Holy Catholic Church keeping alive the new Phlogiston, 'black body surface IR, and the new Lysenkoism, thermalisation of that mostly non-existent energy in the gas phase, quantum excluded, and 'back radiation' feedback, to mistake an emittance for a real IR flux.

Sep 16, 2014 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

I continue to agree with Skeptical Chymist:

Here at BH, I hope for a more nuanced critique of the motives of scientists. Those I know really could be far better off doing something else.

Although TinyCO2, clever chap that he is, can come up with myriad lines of defence, I don't think we should be defending BH at all costs (BH the blog, not the person). On the contrary, I think we should take pains to demonstrate that we are listening to this opinion. BH does change and SC has been around long enough to have a considered view. An 'anti-science' feel is exactly what Drs Mann, Lew and others want us to have. Let's not indulge them.

Sep 16, 2014 at 6:05 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard, who said this was about ‘anti science’? Anti bad science yes and I could reel off examples of bad science from most sciences. Science has become too comfy in its respected position and has forgotten that it needs to earn its good name. There are too many frivolous science works making it to the newspapers. Too many speculative papers that amount to little more than science fiction. Too many that make tenuous claims on the most meagre quantity of data. Climate science isn’t the bad guy here, it’s one of the crowd. The public laugh when yet another study comes out that says X is good for you when only last week it was bad and it gradually erodes any trust. Eventually all science is received with a pinch of salt and the public start to pick and choose which they want to accept. The scientists let studies like the MMR paper slip through, not because it was any good but because it was novel. The whole process of peer review is geared towards originality and not replicability. Woe betide the scientist who treads another’s path but there are few sanctions for writing complete and utter tosh.

We live in a world where a low paid maintenance worker can end up in prison for making a simple mistake, why should any professional (and I include journalists and politicians) be allowed to blithely do their job with no fear of repercussions, no matter what the consequences?

Sep 16, 2014 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I believe that scientists should be accountable. I don't mean that they should be hounded and sued over every mistake, but as professionals they need to take some responsibility when the technical judgements they are paid to make go terribly wrong. Many scientists work with within such a framework.

Climate scientists seem to think they are immune from criticism, never mind accountability. I do wonder about their attribution of 100% of temperature rise to AGW - which started off the whole alarmism - when they obviously didn't have a clue about climate science basics such as ocean oscillations, cloudiness and solar effects. They chose to ignore natural variability and insisted it could not explain the warming, despite the fact that the warming was almost identical to a period earlier in the century.

This brings in questions about motivation and politicisation. Then it gets very murky indeed.

When you consider the huge cost to taxpayers, if it turns out that the threat was hugely exaggerated and other possibilities were wilfully ignored, should those who led the pack not have to explain themselves?

When I raised this a few weeks ago on this site the comment was described as sinister by a climate scientist.

Sep 16, 2014 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Tiny: I repeat "I think we should take pains to demonstrate that we are listening to this opinion [Skeptical Chymist's]." I agreed with Richard Smith in case you didn't pick that up but I also agreed with SC on how he sensed BH was going. Please re-read what I've written. I talked about an 'anti-science' feel. Too many sweeping statements would be a more general problem some may feel. (Cast in that way to avoid being a sweeping statement!)

Sep 16, 2014 at 6:53 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I suspect there are many steps between minor and major scientific misconduct. Should those found guilty of the latter be prosecuted? That is really the title of this blog and I think the answer is "probably".

It is absolutely necessary to define misconduct. I shall not attempt to do that here. Probably some of the key elements of misconduct will include the following:

- Withholding data known to be crucial to the scientific conclusion.
- Deliberately suppressing information which has bearing on the uncertainty of, or the errors contained in, the conclusions being presented.
- Wilfully dismissing information which may be relevant but which has not been evaluated within the current study.

I could go on, but you get the drift.

If one is designing a medical treatment, aircraft or road bridge there must be basic standards, why not in climate science?

Sep 16, 2014 at 7:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Yes, it's too easy to slip in sweeping statements and condemn a lot of people unfairly but the passion comes from a belief in the importance of science. Mistakes happen in all fields and I DON'T think anybody should be hounded if they try to do the right thing, let alone the lowest of workers, but people are falable and many would argue that more mistakes happen if there are no penaties for getting things wrong.

No field wants to be regulated or policed. Everybody swears they can manage their own responsibilities but history shows us that those who are responsible for themselves can be very lenient judges. eg The medical profession is terrible at dealing with bad apples. Journalists are fighting tooth and nail to avoid a regulator. Politicians did everything they could to avoid FOI requests on their expenses, and were so confident of their invulnerability they continued to put in ludicrous expense claims even when the first requests came in. Business hates being regulated too but nobody would suggest we scrap the HSE or consumer protection systems. As they say, if everyone was good we'd need no laws.

My dislike of science stems from the determination to deny there is anything wrong, not past mistakes. Climate science didn't spoil itself when Mann and Jones were doing their thing but when others investigated and found almost nothing wrong. There is nothing dishonourable in trying and failing to model the climate but there is when they pretend their software works and they have no proof they're right. There is nothing wrong with being unable to predict earthquakes until you give someone the impression you can.

Sep 16, 2014 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

No mention of BH Tiny. Re-read what SC and I wrote. I wasn't all about you :)

Sep 16, 2014 at 8:27 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

TinyCO2 - the part of your comment that caught my attention was the reference to the investigations, or whitewashes as we prefer to call them, into the disclosures of climategate.

That really was the turning point. But not as we like to think. That was the turning point when the climate scientists were caught out being corrupt, but when the great and the good fell over themselves to declare what good chaps they were. That fiasco set justice back about 20 years by my reckoning.

Sep 16, 2014 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Richard, it’s true that an anti scientist theme is building within the sceptical blogosphere. My point is that it is deserved. Individually I’m sure most scientists (even climate ones) are really nice, conscientious people but as a group they’re rapidly getting a bad reputation and not just here. Do we (BH or wider internet commentators) give journalists or politicians the benefit of the doubt? Are businesses automatically granted blind trust and support? Don’t we all condemn software designers as callous b@stards who create buggy upgrades just to ruin our lives? Why do scientists deserve better treatment in your opinion? Because we never know who is reading or posting? Might one of them (eg Skeptical Chymist) go away and make a difference? The same could be true of politicians and journalists but they’d probably pack more clout.

Condemning a group should never be seen as a personal attack. We should all accept that our fields have flaws and either agree with or defend aginst those slurs.

Sep 16, 2014 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

@TinyCO2: no scientist should fear retribution so long as he or she can provide experimental evidence of their claims.

I can but I suspect 95% of the rest can't......:o)

Sep 16, 2014 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

legislation ??

i cant help thinking that we have this back to front.

If our shoe factories were producing nothing but size 9 shoes, because thats the average
we would not legislate for a proper size distribution. how could we ?

I cant be the only person to notice a common factor here, in the centre of all of our ills
scientivists, activists, peer review, policy led science, silence of the science-lambs
grotesque investigations, swathes and spates of dross 'papers'

the common denominator is academia

Sep 17, 2014 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

Is there really a growing anti-scientist trend? I think the better sceptical blogs are largely behaving as they always did in advocating a scientific approach. Sir Paul Nurse, Brian Cox, Michael Mann are scientists, but they damage their reputations as such when they put on their mantles of scientific infallibility and try to tell the world what to think. They are not scientists when they do this, but cultists (as well as publicists, narcissists, activists, etc.), and deserve to be ridiculed.

Global warming has had longer legs than most scares, but it looks set to end (as a scare) in the next couple of years. In the wash up, much money will have been squandered, lives will have been lost, and some bank balances boosted. But that's much the way that evolution works and, wasteful as it is, I'd rather have our understanding grow this way than put it in the hands of the lawmakers and the courts.

Sep 17, 2014 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Swan

How refreshing.

Fraud is fraud however perpetrated. I disagree regards with some of the comments above regards the ability of the legal system to consider scientific and academic fraud. I've been involved in cases both as a protagonist and as an expert witness. The legal process can absolutely handle complex scientific matters, in fact it can assert a logic that some researchers would find frightening.

Bring it on I say, the majority of ethical scientists have been silent too long and if cutting out the cancer of corruption and fraud from their midst means that some of the sound entities go also then so be it, they have no one to blame but themselves.

I would hope, that should this come to pass, that those involved in the supervision and administration of the fraudsters also have their collars felt by the long arm of the law. Turning a blind eye or claiming ignorance is not an acceptable defense in the courts. Tenure should be eliminated, it is no better than the concept of union seniority and a hindrance to the progression of young bright minds.

Sep 17, 2014 at 1:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Singleton

@ Mike Singleton

>The legal process can absolutely handle complex scientific matters ...

I've been involved in four (4) Commissions of Inquiry into catastrophic industrial (mining) occurrences

The essential legal element in these cases (all of them under variants of British law) is the concept of adversarial proceedings. While hostile cross-examination can expose useful facts, its' usefulness depends on the cross-examiner(s) having sufficient scientific knowledge to be able to ask the right questions. Unhappily, the primary aim of such cross-examination is generally to try and find someone to blame - scientific "truth" has a back seat here

For succinctness, I'll provide one example here from one of these Commissions:

Of geoscientific point, the differences in form of quartz phases between the Carboniferous and the Permian are critical to the ability of that mineral to cause frictional ignition of methane under conditions appropriate to each form. No cross-examiner (all of high-priced barrister level) had the slightest knowledge of, nor interest in, this critical information - yet it was crucial data for trying to understand the ignitional cause of the catastrophic explosion. It proved impossible to get the lawyers to understand this; they simply regarded it as irrelevant in their hunt for criminally negligent person(s)

In fact one of the cross-examining barristers, in an informal "discussion" with me after hours, accused me of erroneously believing that there IS such a thing as truth. When I pointed out to him that this notion made a nonsense of the perjury laws, I do believe his head appeared to explode

This did not, and to this day does not, give me any confidence that legal proceedings will be of much use

Sep 17, 2014 at 3:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

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