Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who Guards the Guardians?

  • Fraud and misconduct in research
  • Junk science in the courtroom
  • Fraud and misconduct in law enforcement

 From junk science and fraudulent laboratory results in courtrooms, to misconduct in scientific research, to fake experiments, and to plagiarism, the criminal science investigator ensures honesty within the halls of science and the halls of justice.  The Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services is the top of the CSI pyramid. 

Every research university has its own “institutional review board” to ensure that experiments conform to best practices.  Students at all levels in all disciplines are bound by an equivalent code of honor.
 In the picture above, it would be easy to assume that the woman to our right, in blue, is the Guardian.  But law enforcement often depends on the findings of scientists, technicians, and other professionals.  Who, then, is the guardian? 

  • Some remain beyond reproach after careful investigation.  That is what makes science work so well. 
  • Others are simple errors, easy to fix. 
This still leaves too many cases where scientific findings are falsified or falsely reported.  That includes those used by law enforcement and prosecution.

If you are interested in a career in forensic investigation, think beyond the "mass mediated hyper-reality" of TV drama.  The federal government, major research universities, and large corporations all employ scientific auditors.  Private practice is always an option. 

Even if you have no interest in criminal investigation, the same ethics of scientific research presented here apply to technology, business, trade, and commerce.
Within the scientific community, crimes are known.  As you will find below, it is an easy estimate that 20% of reports and findings are potentially suspect.  That seems like a large number, but it remains that 80% are not suspect.  Of those that are questionable, not all are the consequence of willful fraud, deception, or misconduct

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