Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Richard P. Feynman, "Cargo Cult Science"
This was Dr. Feynman's graduation address to the class of at the California Institute of Technology where he had been a professor since 1950.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

[What is missing is ] a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Misconduct Cases
from the Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 40 cases going back to before 2007 are summarized.
"The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) promotes integrity in biomedical and behavioral research supported by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) at about 4,000 institutions worldwide. ORI monitors institutional investigations of research misconduct and facilitates the responsible conduct of research (RCR) through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities."
All investigations and their results are entered into the [Federal Register and become part of the permanent documentary history of the government of the United States of America. 

The ORI also provide tools for detecting plagiarism (http://ori.hhs.gov/tools/) and a rich set of guidelines for avoiding plagiarism here: http://ori.hhs.gov/education/products/plagiarism/

Voodoo Science by Robert Park.
"Robert L. (Bob) Park is professor of physics and former chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. For twenty years, research into the properties of crystal surfaces occupied most of his waking hours, but in 1983 he was recruited by astrophysicist Willie Fowler (who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics later that year) to open a Washington Office of the American Physical Society. Bob initiated a weekly report of happenings in Washington that were important to science, and with the development of the internet, the weekly report evolved into the news/editorial column What's New. For the next twenty years he divided his time between the University and the Washington Office. In 2003 he returned to the University full time. With the support of the Department of Physics of the University of Maryland, he continues to write the occasionally controversial What's New, which has developed a following that extends beyond physics.
"Dr. Park has also written two books based on his Washington experience:
Voodoo Science: The Road from foolishness to Fraud (Oxford, 2000)
Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science (Princeton, 2008). "
In addition to "free energy" and "cold fusion" Voodoo Science also exposes the unscientific claims for human space travel, planetary exploration and colonization.

Plastic Fantastic by Eugenie Samuel Reich.

"Between 2000 and 2002, Jan Hendrik Schön, a researcher at Bell Laboratories, published more than 20 articles on electrical properties of unusual materials. He shot to the very top of the booming field of “molecular electronics”—a wonder field in which researchers aim to shrink computer chips down to single-molecule components. At Schön’s peak, he was submitting 4 or 5 articles per month, most of them going to top journals like Science and Nature. He hit his record in autumn 2001, turning out 7 articles that November alone. The output was staggering. It’s rare for a scientist—even a string theorist, beholden neither to instruments nor to data—to submit 7 articles in an entire year, let alone one month. And Schön’s papers were no run-of-the-mill exercises. In them, he announced one unbelievable discovery after another: He had created organic plastics that became superconductors or lasers; he had fashioned nanoscale transistors; and more. The editors of Science hailed one of his many contributions as a “breakthrough of the year” in 2001. The CEO of Lucent Technologies (parent company of Bell Labs) likewise touted Schön’s work when courting investors. Everything Schön touched seemed to turn to research gold.
"Alas, it was fool’s gold."
The OnlineUniversities.com website has a new (February 2012) blog entry, "The 10 Greatest Cases of Fraud in University Research."  The link is:

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