Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yes, Virginia, There is Science Fraud

One of the keystones of good science is repeatability.  Good science should be neatly written up, with clear methods so that another scientist can, if in doubt, rerun the study, and see if the results can be duplicated.  If they can be duplicated by others, it is a strong indication (but not absolute proof) that the original study was correct.

Unfortunately, perhaps, many not trivial studies are never replicated.  Why?  Because there's no glory (and rarely grant money) in being the second person to do something.  We all remember that Galileo dropped two stone of different mass off the Tower of Pisa to prove that their time of descent was independent of the their mass, contrary to Aristotle's pure reasoning.  But who was the scientist that duplicated that experiment to prove that Galileo wasn't putting them on?

But what happens when scientists do check on the repeatability of psychological studies?

Scientific Studies of Conservatives Can't Be Replicated
Concerned by the unreliability of scientific research in the field of psychology, an international group, the Many Labs Replication Project, began fact-checking major research. Of the thirteen studies it reviewed, only two were proven completely unreliable – and both had to do with conservative political behavior.

Both studies concerned “social priming,” a phenomenon by which people are made more likely to endorse a view or act in a particular way by first being exposed to certain stimuli.

The first study, published in May 2013, was thought to show that exposure to money influenced one to become friendlier to free-market capitalism. According to the study's abstract, this exposure made subjects more likely to endorse the current American social structure and to assert that “victims deserve their fate.”

The second study alleged that exposure to the American flag leads to “a shift toward Republican beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior” for up to eight months afterward.

Neither study's results could be replicated.
And then, science in general refused to acknowledge the common theme in the refuted studies:
Scientific American, in telling this story, fails to note an irony which is not without its own scientific significance. The Project's review suggests a much-more-than-random failure of scientific studies that pertain to conservative views and beliefs. Scientists' inability to form sound theses in this area and to pursue their evidence with good methodology is a morsel that one interested in academic bias should not want to pass up.
I've had a subscription to Scientific American since childhood, and there is absolutely no doubt that it's editorial staff, in accordance with O'Sullivan's Law, has become a hotbed of liberal fervor.
O’Sullivan’s Law states that any organization or enterprise that is not expressly right wing will become left wing over time. The law is named after British journalist John O’Sullivan.
But I'm going to go out on a limb on this one and admit that my post title is likely a wee bit misleading, rather than outright fraud, what is going is confirmation bias; the scientists, left wing head hunters, knew what they wanted to find, and subconsciously conducted a biased study to find it, and may have even unconsciously edited the data to suit their foreordained conclusion.  A salutatory warning to all scientists of the dangers of being overfond of their hypothesis.

And Virginia?

The Attorney General of Virginia's climate science investigation was a "Civil Investigative Demand" initiated in April 2010 by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for a wide range of records held by the University of Virginia related to five grant applications for research work by a leading climate scientist Michael E. Mann who was an assistant professor at the university from 1999 to 2005. The demand was issued under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act in connection with claims by Cuccinnelli that Mann had possibly violated state fraud laws in relation to five research grants, by allegedly manipulating data. No evidence of wrongdoing was presented to support the claim. Mann's earlier work had been targeted by climate change deniers in the hockey stick controversy, and allegations against him were renewed in late 2009 in the Climatic Research Unit email controversy but found to be groundless in a series of investigations.

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