Dorothy Bishop on the prevalence of scientific fraud


Following up on our discussion of replicability, here are some thoughts from psychology researcher Dorothy Bishop on scientific fraud:

In recent months, I [Bishop] have become convinced of two things: first, fraud is a far more serious problem than most scientists recognise, and second, we cannot continue to leave the task of tackling it to volunteer sleuths. 

If you ask a typical scientist about fraud, they will usually tell you it is extremely rare, and that it would be a mistake to damage confidence in science because of the activities of a few unprincipled individuals. . . . we are reassured [that] science is self-correcting . . .

The problem with this argument is that, on the one hand, we only know about the fraudsters who get caught, and on the other hand, science is not prospering particularly well – numerous published papers produce results that fail to replicate and major discoveries are few and far between . . . We are swamped with scientific publications, but it is increasingly hard to distinguish the signal from the noise.

Bishop summarizes:

It is getting to the point where in many fields it is impossible to build a cumulative science, because we lack a solid foundation of trustworthy findings. And it’s getting worse and worse. . . . in clinical areas, there is growing concern that systematic reviews that are supposed to synthesise evidence to get at the truth instead lead to confusion because a high proportion of studies are fraudulent.

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