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article imageOp-Ed: Fraud in Science

By Alexander Baron     Oct 16, 2013 in Science
The recent revelation that some on-line science journals will publish practically any "research" for a fee should come as no surprise.
The recent scam involving on-line journals was exposed by Science magazine, and as stated, this sort of thing is far from new. The subject was touched on here very peripherally in February last year, but the sad truth is that the very fabric of science is riddled with fraud, although only the most notorious cases are known to the general public. What is arguably the most notorious is the palaeontological hoax known as Piltdown Man.
This was the brainchild of the amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson. Although almost from the beginning there were doubts about its provenance, it was only four decades on in 1953 that it was definitively exposed, by which time a memorial stone had been erected on the site where it was allegedly found. Dawson himself died in 1916 at the young age of 52. According to his obituary in the London Times, amateur geologist Dawson was a solicitor and had been clerk to Uckfield magistrates for 22 years, something that will come as no surprise to cynics.
Reconstruction of the Piltdown man skull. Some say it was the most outrageous hoax ever in archaeolo...
Reconstruction of the Piltdown man skull. Some say it was the most outrageous hoax ever in archaeology, geology, and paleontology.
J. Arthur Thomson, The Outline of Science, 1922
A few years after the Piltdown Man hoax, Nebraska Man was found, but this was a case of honest error, albeit one compounded by enthusiasm.
A much older fossil than Piltdown Man is archaeopteryx, which is believed to be the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. The first such fossil was discovered in 1861, which being only two years after the publication of The Origin Of Species, might have been considered suspicious. In 1987, a team of specialists from two of the UK's most prestigious institutions published THE FEATHERS FLY Is Archaeopteryx a Fake?
The consensus appears to be that it is indeed the real thing, especially as a number of specimens have been found in recent years, but in view of the antics of Phineas T. Barnum among others, skepticism is always warranted.
Aurornis xui
Aurornis xui
Godefroit et al.
A modern animal fraud that didn't last quite as long as Piltdown Man was Summerlin's mouse. In 1974, medical researcher William T. Summerlin did something extraordinary, he turned white mice black. If this had been done by skin transplantation, there would have been major implications for transplant surgery. Unfortunately, Summerlin achieved this remarkable feat with a marker pen!
One field in which fraud abounds is parapsychology. For many years, the pre-eminent researcher in that was Dr J.B. Rhine. Rhine's wife Louisa worked with him and outlived him; on her death she donated her papers to Duke University. Her book Something Hidden, about this research, was published posthumously. At times, Rhine produced remarkable results, but some of these were tainted. Although he has been severely criticised, Rhine was probably not himself dishonest because he did catch many people who tried to pull the wool over his eyes, and reported this. It does seem however that he was somewhat selective in his reporting.
Like the Rhines, parasychologist Marcello Truzzi was an honest researcher, but he was extremely gullible, as evinced by his book The Blue Sense, which he co-wrote with Arthur Lyons.
There are many other examples of both outright fraud and self-deception, such as cold fusion, but one of the biggest and most significant frauds is that perpetrated on the world by Dr Alfred Kinsey, whose spurious researches - and crimes - have been extensively documented by Judith Reisman.
How can all this be? The simple answer is that human testimony is and always has been frail. Some do it for money, as with the on-line science journals. some for prestige, Charles Dawson probably faked Piltdown Man for devilment, and there can be multiple motives. The bottom line is that no one is ever to be trusted. All the above are what might be called rogue incidents, apart from the first which is really a modern version of what used to be known as vanity publishing. There are though far more organised and sinister perversions of science, ones that even rigorously controlled double blind studies have not defeated. One question the reader might ask himself concerns smoking; is smoking really so dangerous, or is the major cause of lung cancer smoking and something else, as Simon Wolff believed? And let's not even think about either the drug industry or Monsanto.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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