Without Integrity, There Is No Science
Science continues facing a crisis in credibility, leaving Big Science institutions scrambling for solutions.
Any college student has likely walked through aisles upon aisles of scholarly science journals, bound into thick volumes. The library stores the collective findings of thousands of research scientists. Now imagine a day when half the reports are fakes or frauds, and there is no way to tell which are real. Such an eventuality would render the library useless. A civilization with that kind of legacy would have to start over from scratch, insisting on high standards of a non-scientific criterion: integrity.
The following articles, briefly noted here, point to a crisis in trustworthiness of scientists and their institutions. No longer can Big Science dish out findings for public consumption with presumptive authority, promising that peer review has earned them their trust. Everyone needs to buck up and show why the public should trust what they deliver. They also show that scientific methods and traditions are malleable under heat and pressure. What happens, though, when most of them are evolutionists?
Evolution of integrity? Since Darwin’s second major book, The Descent of Man, his followers have appealed to natural and sexual selection to explain human moral traits. A recent example from PNAS by Adam Bear and David Rand is about “Intuition, deliberation, and the evolution of cooperation.” Those are certainly required in a scientific community. Alas, “Our model offers a clear explanation for why we should expect deliberation to promote selfishness rather than cooperation,” they say. If evolution rewards defectors from the “seemingly altruistic behavior” of cooperation, what’s really going on in those science conferences? If it’s only “seemingly altruistic,” it’s an illusion produced by blind forces of nature.
Tackling the credibility crisis in science: That’s PhysOrg‘s headline for a piece about an initiative by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) to improve credibility by doing “research on research.” “Widespread failure to reproduce research results has triggered a crisis of confidence in research findings, eroding public trust in scientific methodology.” This follows on the heels of work by John Ioannidis (10/29/14), who “found very poor reproducibility and transparency standards across the board.” Scientists behaved badly. “Specifically, the vast majority of studies did not share their data, did not provide protocols, claimed to report novel findings rather than replications, and did not mention funding or conflicts of interest.” What was it we imagined about those aisles of books in the library?
Nature reports that a fake research paper got published with the editor’s knowledge in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice as a satire on “evidence-based literature” and randomized controlled trials. Not everyone caught the joke, even though the title should have been obvious: “Maternal kisses are not effective in alleviating minor childhood injuries (boo-boos): a randomized, controlled and blinded study.” Some complained that the paper should have been “clearly labelled as satirical.”
Cashin’ in: Science Magazine reports on the new fad of “transparency” and the need for reproducibility of scientific research. Psychologist Brian Nosek is using a carrot method to promote better behavior by scientists: offering them money to describe their experiments before running them. Maybe that will direct their evolved “seemingly altruistic behavior” (which is really Darwinian selfishness, according to the paper above) against its natural tendencies. What Nosek may have discovered is an infinite regress: “‘Can we find evidence of whether [preregistration] is yielding an increase in the credibility of the research?’ he asks. ‘That is a research question.‘” But then, who would test the credibility of that research? That is a research question, too, and so on, ad infinitum. Somewhere along the line, a researcher needs to be trustworthy by his or her character and personal integrity.
Open journal trend. Peer review is being reconsidered. Nature says, “Open journals that piggyback on arXiv gather momentum.” Cornell’s arXiv server plowed a new furrow years ago, letting scientists post their papers and get them peer reviewed afterward instead of before. Cosmologist Andrew King used it is a general lesson in scientific publishing: “‘Reliability — and particularly fairness — are very hard to guarantee,” he says, pointing out that the backing of long-lived organizations with a stake in the future of a field, such as learned societies, is often crucial to a journal’s success.”
Dutch take the lead: Nature reports that the Dutch are taking the lead to open up their journals. All the mainstream journals have opened up more and more of their research papers to public online access, but the Netherlands is pushing for “making more papers free for all users as soon as they are published.” This cannot be welcome news for the publishers whose income relies on subscriptions. The trend is also having repercussions on universities, libraries, and researchers, but it is welcome to citizens whose taxes often pay for the research. It also decreases rivalries, increases transparency, and promotes rapid response. Nature is apparently waiting to see if this will become the international trend, even as their own open-access offerings have been on the rise. In a related piece in Nature, Virginia Gewin writes,
It is a movement building steady momentum: a call to make research data, software code and experimental methods publicly available and transparent. A spirit of openness is gaining traction in the science community, and is the only way, say advocates, to address a ‘crisis’ in science whereby too few findings are successfully reproduced. Furthermore, they say, it is the best way for researchers to gather the range of observations that are necessary to speed up discoveries or to identify large-scale trends.
What does this say about the situation heretofore? How bad was the lack of openness before now?
Opacity, not transparency: PhysOrg gives a partial answer: “Poor transparency and reporting jeopardize the reproducibility of science.” How bad has it been? “Billions of dollars are wasted every year on research that cannot be reproduced,” the article concludes from two studies on biomedical literature, where widespread abuse of protocols was noted, such as the failure to declare conflicts of interest. “The findings of these two studies join a long list of concerns about bias and reporting in basic research.” The authors of one study give examples, but only rely on hope that things will get better. “We hope our survey will further sensitize scientists, funders, journals and other science-related stakeholders about the need to improve these indicators,” they said. If the incentives are all selfish from natural selection, though, why get sensitive about it?
Listen up, those of you who have been taught Finagle’s Law, “Science is truth! Do not be misled by facts.” The “Scientific Method” (there is no such thing; see 3/11/15) is not an impartial, impersonal knowledge generator. You can’t turn a crank and watch knowledge pop out, when the one turning the crank is a crank himself.
Nothing good can come from a corrupt source. Jesus said, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). Why, then, do any fallen individuals sometimes come up with good scientific results? For one thing, even a broken clock is right twice a day. For another, they have to pretend to do right sometimes to avoid collapsing in their own corruption. Finally, it can get painful to deny moral reality all the time.
The evil trees borrow fruit from the godly trees to hang on their own branches, but it isn’t produced from their own sap. Darwin planted a lot of trees flowing with his own toxic brew of sap that permeates his fruit. Anyone who eats it is a sap himself. You eat what you are.