August 14, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

AAAS Chief Wants to Evolve Integrity

His physical sensors detect a problem,
but where will he find the solution?

 

 

One of the chiefs of Big Science, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is a staunch evolutionist. In fact, he considers creationism—or doubts about evolution for that matter—to be a symptom of the decline of American education (New York Times, quoted by NCSE, 2006). By contrast, he says that evolution is full of “exciting applications (like food)” and antibiotics.

If evolution is such a powerful force for good in society, Holden Thorp has a problem. Public distrust of science is growing—and not without reason: scientists themselves have set a bad example of trustworthiness. In his editorial in Science on August 10, Thorp begins:

H. Holden Thorp, editor of the journal Science (AAAS)

It’s been a bad few weeks for public perceptions of research integrity, as multiple cases at elite universities have received wide news coverage. Francesca Gino, a scientist at Harvard University, is in a legal dispute over whether data in newly retracted papers about dishonesty were manipulated; she is now suing Harvard and the researchers who surfaced the alleged problems. Likewise, Duke University is investigating published work by scientist Daniel Ariely. Johns Hopkins University may initiate an investigation of research misconduct by Nobel laureate Gregg Semenza. And most prominently, the president of Stanford University, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, recently resigned after the institution’s report determined that the “culture” in his laboratory contributed to manipulation of results.

Perhaps a sentence in his 2006 essay could bear modification. Instead of “Will Mom or Dad Scientist want to live somewhere where their children are less likely to learn evolution?” how about, “Will Mom or Dad Scientist want to live somewhere where their children are studying science under liars, frauds and cheats?”

Big Science Culture

Speaking as a judge of ethics, Thorp continues moralizing about the sorry state of science lately. Like a taxonomist, he classifies lab culture into three bins: pathologic, bureaucratic, and generative. The first two are led by evolved apes (i.e., human beings) who allow misconduct to be excused or ignored. Only the “generative” culture, where performance is valued and errors that could reduce performance are welcomed, can promote this biological trait called integrity.

This general split in culture exists across the scientific enterprise. There are, arguably, a few laboratories with pathological cultures. However, it’s not just the culture of the labs per se that is at issue with respect to research integrity, but rather the culture of the larger system through which research is conducted and communicated.

As a leading personality in the Big Science Cartel (academic deans, lobbyists and journal editors, as opposed to the working stiffs in the lab), Thorp has an inside view on the rot in the institutions. His classification of scientific institutions agrees closely with our definition of Big Science. It looks like a self-perpetuating political insider club, tainted with perverse incentives for dishonesty.

Institutions and the maintenance of the scientific record generally fall squarely in the bureaucratic realm. Publishers have policies aimed at research integrity and are part of entities that have legal and public relations functions. Universities have even more policies, lawyers, reputational managers, and highly professional administrative staff who handle research integrity. And governments add a research funding layer to the already complex bureaucracy. The result is a system that produces sluggish responses to research integrity issues that neither engender trust among the public nor among those skeptical of the ability of these entities to promote research integrity.

Although science’s bureaucratic culture doesn’t cause misconduct, it appears to define how misconduct is handled— by litigating and clamming up about allegations rather than collaborating to find out what happened.

Thorp appears too impatient to wait for natural selection to evolve integrity (19 Aug 2022). He wants progress to “materialize faster and more frequently” than it does now. How can he accelerate the evolution of integrity?

Maybe scientists should use the Crispr/Cas9 tool to genetically engineer scientists with enhanced genes that produce integrity-like behavior. Or, perhaps they could silence the genes that make scientists prone to litigate or clam up about allegations.

Even then, though, it would take a generation to see the benefits. By the time the new crop of GM scientists matures, it’s conceivable that misconduct will have evolved to be the norm. The new integrity-prone lab primates might be discriminated against by the culture. The cheaters will have become the new cooperators in evolutionary game theory!

Plagiarism

Thorp doesn’t propose such things, of course; those are just possibilities that would conform to his evolutionary worldview. Instead, he borrows moral values from theists: delicious things like honesty, truth, and righteousness. But he thinks he can get them within materialism. No guidance from a Creator is necessary. The “scientific community” of evolved apes will figure out integrity on its own.

Science will continue to work to increase trust in its role in maintaining the scientific record. Science Advances now has a scientific integrity officer who handles questions that arise about papers, and we regularly monitor PubPeer and related websites for concerns about all the Science journals. There will always be humans involved at institutions, laboratories, and journals, so there will always be errors. The scientific community will decide when its constituents, including journals, have reached a point when errors can accurately be ascribed to either honest mistakes or misconduct.

If Thorp can promote his ideas among his other evolved apes, they will “help forge a path to a more generative culture” in which the scientific community welcomes information about errors instead of suppressing or ignoring them.

But wasn’t the public led to believe that “science” is a “self-correcting” process? Columnist Denyse O’Leary casts doubt on that notion (Evolution News). For whatever reason, Thorp’s editorial implies that the self-correcting process is not working. See also “The Myth of Science Self-Correction,” 13 Feb 2017.

To be clear, we believe that Holden Thorp is a created human being endowed with the image of God, not an evolved ape. His imago dei is illustrated by his conscience that disturbs him when he sees misconduct among his peers. He knows that integrity is good—intrinsically good, not just a pragmatic or operationalist behavior that tends to work in most cases. We predict that if he were asked whether to favor one scientist with integrity over ten thousand frauds, his answer would be quick and direct: the former, of course.

But since he is a committed evolutionist, we also feel that integrity demands restricting him to his own worldview assumptions and not letting him get away with stealing from those of others. Biblical theists believe the Ten Commandments that forbid stealing and coveting. Thorp’s righteous concerns would make sense if he repented of his Darwinism and embraced the truths of the Bible. Since he rejects the Bible as an authority, he has to eat from Darwin’s table. Integrity is not served by his cooks.

And so, if he wishes to remain consistent about Darwinian evolution, Thorp must ascribe to the belief that humans are evolved apes. His human body evolved to walk upright when some primitive ape climbed out of the trees. His large brain evolved from the mind of the lower animals. Culture evolves. Values evolve. All human behavior is a manifestation of genetic determinism.

If he wants to be Richard Dawkins’s friend, Thorp would have to agree that his selfish genes made him write this editorial. He doesn’t believe a word he said. This is what his selfish genes determined would give them the best means for propagating themselves.

Ironically, another hardcore evolutionist, Jerry Coyne, accused Thorp of evolving toward wokeness: “Thorp, like every other big-time journal editor, is woke” (Why Evolution Is True, 12 May 2023). So in this evolutionary game, who is now the cooperator, and who is the cheater? In a world of shifting sand, is anything true? If evolution were true, neither Coyne nor Thorp could know it.

Perhaps these thoughts will lead Thorp to start having some horrid doubts of his own. Admitting a crisis is the first step toward help. The remedy is simple. We invite him to get out of the quicksand on which he stands, and build on the Solid Rock. Then, the more in the scientific community he can get to follow him ashore, the more integrity will grow. Learn from the example of our Scientist of the Month, James Clerk Maxwell, who wrote,

Teach me so Thy works to read
That my faith,—new strength accruing,—
May from world to world proceed,
Wisdom’s fruitful search pursuing;
Till, thy truth my mind imbuing,
I proclaim the Eternal Creed,
Oft the glorious theme renewing
God our Lord is God indeed.

Scroll down to see a musical setting of these words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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