Scientists Suing Scientists, and Behaving Badly

Nathan Schachtman:

In his 1994 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the Hungarian born chemist George Andrew Olah acknowledged an aspect of science that rarely is noted in popular discussions:

“[One] way of dealing with errors is to have friends who are willing to spend the time necessary to carry out a critical examination of the experimental design beforehand and the results after the experiments have been completed. An even better way is to have an enemy. An enemy is willing to devote a vast amount of time and brain power to ferreting out errors both large and small, and this without any compensation. The trouble is that really capable enemies are scarce; most of them are only ordinary. Another trouble with enemies is that they sometimes develop into friends and lose a good deal of their zeal. It was in this way the writer lost his three best enemies. Everyone, not just scientists, need a few good enemies!”[1]

If you take science seriously, you must take error as something for which we should always be vigilant, and something we are committed to eliminate. As Olah and Von Békésy have acknowledged, sometimes an enemy is required. It would thus seem to be quite unscientific to complain that an enemy was harassing you, when she was criticizing your data, study design, methods, or motives.