When Scientists Actually Do Fabricate Data

In light of recent discussions we’ve been having about alleged bogus science, I thought this story was interesting. It concerns Dr. Marc Hauser, a “star researcher” from Harvard who is an expert on animal and human cognition, and who has written on the evolutionary basis of morality. It also appears, though, that he may have intentionally fudged research data in order to arrive at a predetermined result: Marc Hauser May Have Fabricated Data at Harvard Lab.

Some forms of scientific error, like poor record keeping or even mistaken results, are forgivable, but fabrication of data, if such a charge were to be proved against Dr. Hauser, is usually followed by expulsion from the scientific community.

“There is a difference between breaking the rules and breaking the most sacred of all rules,” said Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia. The failure to have performed a reported control experiment would be “a very serious and perhaps unforgivable offense,” Dr. Haidt said.

Makes for an interesting contrast, doesn’t it? You could compare it, say, to the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, where allegations of misdeeds following the theft and selective release of emails led to three independent investigations, all of which found that researchers acted with honesty and integrity, and that their results were scientifically valid.

10 Responses to “When Scientists Actually Do Fabricate Data”

  1. shcb Says:

    If Marc Hauser didn’t use proper scientific procedures and not using a control group and saying one did is a major violation of scientific ethic and protocol dictates this is the kiss of death then by all means throw this guy under the bus and go ahead and take Mann and Jones with him, maybe toss in the sloppy computer programmer and they could form a barbershop quartet.

    Now that that is out of the way let’s look at these three “Independent reports” the first in the Wiki link was done with one day of oral testimony the second was done by the University of East Anglia, sort of like Exxon examining itself after Valdez. But to their credit at least they took two days of oral testimony, and did take the time to look at the data. However, and there is always a however, they were very careful to not get to the root of the problem, this from the report they filed:

    2. The Panel was not concerned with the question of whether the conclusions of the published research were correct. Rather it was asked to come to a view on the integrity of the Unit’s research and whether as far as could be determined the conclusions represented an honest and scientifically justified interpretation of the data

    But you see one of the major criticisms has been that the data wasn’t collected properly, so determining that data that was improperly collected and then improperly modeled but properly analyzed based on that data and model is rather pointless.

    After one day of oral testimony the Science and Technology Select Committee said that the climate arm of science typically didn’t report their data to the public, and how exactly does one come to this conclusion after only one day of oral testimony. Did they sequester 50 or 100 people from all over the climatic scientific community, put them all in an auditorium with dozens of interviewers, work till late in the night so that in one day they could make that statement with some authority? My guess is it went something like this “so Bob, why didn’t you publish your data” to which Bob replies “Ralph and Mikey don’t publish their data” the interviewer then lifts his pen into his notebook and says “well all righty then, I’ll just write that up as no one in the industry does”. Climate scientists, aren’t they special. This also begs to question if they aren’t releasing all the data to the public, are they releasing all the data to those involved in the peer review process, and if they aren’t how can this process be credible. They also commented that the committee accepted that Jones had released all the data he could, after one day of oral testimony? One of the biggest complaints against Jones is that he engaged in sloppy record-keeping so how then do you even know what data was available for him to release? At some point you have to know all the data that was available to determine if he released all he could. If this report is based on oral testimony doesn’t it make sense that they didn’t even look at any data yet somehow they know that he released all pertinent data without looking at any. Oh and by the way, the University of Alabama at Huntsville does publish all their data, on the Internet, for everyone to see. So the statement that climate scientists typically don’t release data seems to be incorrect in its face value.

    I didn’t even bother looking up the third report, I figure 2 out of 3 is close enough. To borrow a line from that great modern-day philosopher Larry the Cable Guy “that’s just funny, I don’t care who you are”.

  2. jbc Says:

    I’ll note that again, you are doing a really good impression of a True Believer in the throes of a fantastically unlikely conspiracy theory. When confronted with conflicting evidence, a conspiracy theorist simply hunts down a few anomalies, asserts that they invalidate the whole of the anti-conspiracy argument, and then leaps to the conclusion that “therefore, my fantastically unlikely explanation is true.”

    In this particular case, there’s an assertion on your part that there exists a conspiracy on the part of the overwhelming majority of actively publishing climate scientists from all over the world, and that the CRU emails constitute smoking-gun evidence of that conspiracy’s existence. (Feel free to correct me if that’s not actually what you’re arguing.)

    When I point out that of the three official inquiries that have been made into that question, all three have exonerated the CRU, finding that there is no credible evidence of a conspiracy, your response is to assert that investigation #1 only took a single day of oral testimony, investigation #2 was organized by the university that the CRU is part of, and #3 you simply dismiss out of hand, stating that you “didn’t even bother” to examine it. You do offer a quotation from Larry the Cable Guy, but I’m not sure I see what that has to do with what we’re talking about.

    What does seem clear, though, is that you have no problem expanding the scope of the original conspiracy in order to explain away contradictory evidence: Inquiry #1 was conducted by the British House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee. Apparently the 14 MPs on that committee are part of the conspiracy.

    Similarly with investigation #2. Yes, it was organized by the university where the CRU is housed. But the seven members of that panel actually came from a number of different institutions: ETH Zurich, MIT, the University of Arizona, Imperial College (London), and the University of Cambridge. According to your theory, all these professors, and by extension their institutions, are part of the conspiracy.

    There are two possibilities:

    A) There exists a global conspiracy to misrepresent the scientific evidence on anthropogenic global warming, a conspiracy that includes:

    * 97% of the top climate scientists in the world who have expressed an opinion on the controversy;

    * every member of every official investigation that has been made into the CRU emails, including the 14 members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, the 7 prominent professors from universities around the world who made up the Science Assessment Panel, and the panelists on the six-month Muir Russell investigation (investigation #3, the one you ignored); and

    * literally every single national science academy in every country in the world that has such a body, all of which have endorsed the IPCC position on AGW; or

    B) there is no such conspiracy. Instead, these people are telling the truth, and you, shcb, are mistaken in your views.

    I put it to you that for any objective observer who doesn’t share your personal stake in the matter, B appears much more likely than A.

    If you want people to believe A, you will have to offer some pretty compelling evidence. So far, I haven’t seen you do that. I’m willing to invest some time in following up on any links you care to post, but so far, at least in the part of the discussion that I’ve paid attention to, I haven’t seen you offer much beyond vague ad hominems directed at Phil Jones and Michael Mann.

    I understand that it is your personal opinion that A is, in fact, correct. But in terms of convincing other people, your personal opinion doesn’t count for much. Do you have any training as a climate scientist? As any kind of scientist? What is your educational background? Can you point to any relevant experience you have that would make a fair-minded listener rank your opinions ahead of those of prominent climate scientists and government officials who have spent significant amounts of time investigating the matter as part of official inquiries?

    I’m not saying that your lack of credentials means you don’t get to have an opinion, or that my opinion is any better than yours when evaluated simply on the basis of the credentials of the person who holds it. But my opinion in this case is better than yours, precisely because I’m not expecting listeners to accept it simply on the basis of my authority. Instead, I’m willing to cite evidence, with specific attributions that people can follow up if they want to poke holes in what I’m saying.

    In that sense our argument kind of reminds me of the big epistemological debates of the 18th century. It’s funny to me, in a Larry the Cable Guy sense, that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and all their followers crowding the Mall this weekend with their appeals to patriotism, their flag-waving, and their constant invocation of the Founding Fathers, are actually pushing an anti-science, pro-religious-authority agenda that probably would have horrified the good Enlightenment thinkers who founded this country.

  3. shcb Says:

    I think if the tables were turned you would be making the same assertions, in fact I know you would because you have in the past. You would never allow a company to investigate itself after a scandal and consider that investigation credible. All my points are very valid, I’m not a conspiracy theorist and you know it you are simply doing exactly as you say your opponent are doing, not a bad tactic diverts people’s attention. And yes there can be a conspiracy among 15 people. In the case of only taking one day of oral testimony to make a determination there is a good chance some of the people involved in that investigation would have liked to have had more time but it wasn’t made available to them, they seemingly try to make that point. So now we have possibly reduced the number of people involved in the conspiracy to two or three, two or three people sitting around a desk trying to decide how to minimize the damage. So they decide to only allow the investigators one day of oral testimony and don’t allow them to see the data, sounds credible to me. Then you hire a few investigators who are essentially on your site to begin with and think this whole investigation is a waste of time to begin with and really don’t even want to spend that one day talking to people in a couple weeks to put this report together and deal with media inquiries etc. but like good soldiers they take on the responsibility and do what they can as quickly as they can slay can get back to what they consider legitimate work.

  4. NorthernLite Says:

    But where’s the proof that this conspiracy you speak is real? You’re just speculating.

  5. shcb Says:

    Absolutely I’m speculating, just as you would be speculating that Enron investigating itself after its scandal accurately and fairly would be speculation, but it would be speculation based on some pretty solid ground. One day of oral testimony? Maybe that is all that was needed but my speculation is that much, much more was needed to properly look at decades of research.

    What I find so absolutely comical here is JBC is saying I’m not using cognitive thought, that I am simply believing whatever my masters tell me and yet he proudly displays a study based on one day of oral testimony by one side of an argument (yes I’m making an assumption there, how many sides can you look at in one day) most towns take more time than that interviewing dog catchers for god’s sake.

  6. shcb Says:

    I kind of skirted your point, am I speculating that 3 guys decided to whitewash this? Yes. I am speculating on that point, but then just insert the rest of the argument into the Enron example. Yes a very few people sat around a table and decided to whitewash it, happens all the time, and don’t think academia is exempt, the same lust of power and money resides in the halls of education as in boardrooms.

  7. knarlyknight Says:

    Bravo shcb, good points! And your description aptly describes the 9/11 commission cover-up, except 911 was far more striking in that people resigned from the commission in protest, there was direct political interference in the research direction (Philliop Zelikow et al), and an outburst of criticism and condemnation of the report.

    The 911 movement for a new, science based investigation continues to grow, and not for a lack of critical thinking but rather as a result of logic and scientific methods where it was nearly utterly lacking under Bush’s watch.

    41 U.S. Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Agency Veterans Challenge the Official Account of 9/11 – Official Account of 9/11: “Terribly Flawed,” “Laced with Contradictions,” “a Joke,” “a Cover-up”
    Summary: More than 40 U.S. Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Agency veterans have severely criticized the official account of 9/11 and most have called for a new investigation. Veterans from the U.S. State Department, the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the branches of the U.S. Military are quoted.


  8. shcb Says:

    Couln’t just keep my mouth shut could I? :)

  9. knarlyknight Says:

    shcb, I just knew how much you would appreciate my support, being the educated critical thinker that I am about such things. ;-)

  10. shcb Says:

    I do appreciate it! and just to show you how much I will read your link and give it careful consideration. The funny thing is I have been emailing a friend all day who has made enough money that her and her husband are retired at 55 or so and bored. She goes to the water board meetings for Christ’s sake. She is all upset that the new library is going to charge her garden club to rent meeting rooms. I tried to explain to her that those of us with jobs just don’t care that a bunch of rich bitches have to pay 20 bucks for a room every other month, hell, they all live in million dollar houses, have it in your living room, but she just won’t hear it, the last email had he blabbing about all the good her non profits do… it’s a garden club!!! One man’s just cause is another’s nuisance.

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