Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More on fraud

Janet Stemwedel, over at Adventures in Science and Ethics, has a couple of nice posts on this topic. Her first one, "Are fakers outliers or bellwethers?", discusses the motivations of fakery like Hwang's, riffing off PZ Mghcgs' post, and her second, "Science's neighborhood watch" is partly a response to mine.

I particularly like her characterisation of what David Hull called the "I'm going to get that son of a bitch" motive in science.

It's hard to get research to work. It's a bother to write it up. It's a pain to get it published, especially in a "high impact" journal. Add to that the pressure of spending all kinds of time scrambling for money to support the research (which means identifying a "sexy" problem, catching up on the literature, gathering preliminary data, and writing grant proposals that must also undergo peer review). What's the payoff? If you find something really good, maybe you get fame (you name in the textbooks!), fortune (patent rights!), and the opportunity to do a little superior dance in the general direction of all those other violently competitive scientists in your field.

Oh yeah, and the warm feeling you get from having made a contribution to scientific knowledge.

But really, beating those bastards in the lab across town, that's the reward that stays with you. Especially since you're pretty sure that one of them was behind sinking the review of that important grant proposal that you submitted last year, and then because you didn't get the grant, you didn't get tenure, and now here you are starting off again at another school, so IN THEIR FACE!!

Putting one over on people you hate because they've bloodied you in the fierce competition for resources and recognition ... maybe wouldn't leave you feeling as conflicted as putting one over on people you like and respect. There might be a clue here about ways to raise the cost, or lower the payoff, of being a cheater.