Ethics in Science II

Yesterday I discussed some of the ethical concerns within the Medical science field. This case most likely has the most frequent cases of fraud and unethical behavior. Why? Because there’s a ton of money involved. Clinical trials relate to drugs, which is a multibillion dollar industry. Additionally, there is no requirement by the National Institute of Health to list any potential conflicts of interest. According to Nature there was a plan in the works to require this. However, it got scuttled. In business people go to jail for these types of things.

However, medical science is not the only place where fraud happens. As this ethic blog notes there are a lot of several different kinds of fraud. Some are intentional, others are less intentional. The biggest problem is intentional fraud. Where the author makes up some result. There are two pretty big examples of this. The first is the fake human clone from South Korea by a scientists named Dr. Hwang Woo Suk. This  guy was rather quickly outed as a fraud. However, this wasn’t until there was a HUGE debate in the mainstream media about the ethics of cloning human stem cells. This helped push the US and much of Europe to ban cloning of human embryos.

The second most famous case of fraud is the case of cold fusion. What is cold fusion though, why would people want to make claims of making that happen? Well, fusion is what the sun does, if we could manage to do that on earth without burning ourselves up that would be pretty awesome. Basically, as the PopSci article states, is that with fusion you get more energy than what you put into it. It basically would solve all world energy problems. The first person that does it would basically be a savior to the human race. So, it’s something that people really want to do. There’s debate if it’s even possible, it’s theoretically possible, but physically possible is still up for debate.

So, accidental fraud comes about from introducing a personal bias or from misinterpreting data. Both of these happen fairly often in science. Why? because we’re human, and this is what the scientific method is supposed to eliminate over time. Before publishing results you typically need to have been able to reproduce them and show that there is a trend that is consistent over time for the phenomena that you are studying. This is one of the biggest requirements for science. Which is why in clinical trials there are at least three stages to ensure repeatability of the data.

The other good thing about the scientific method is the fact that other people can take your results and findings and test them. IF the results are different they can be published and used to dispute the previous findings. This happens all the time in regular scientific discourse. In fact there’s a great example of this going on right now. This debate has been going on for about a hundred years now or so. Recently a group debunked Gould’s bias argument. Basically a guy back in the late 1800’s measured a big set of skulls to see if there were any size differences. Stephen Jay-Gould, basically the Richard Dawkins of his day, re-analyzed the data because he felt there was bias in it, and found that there was in fact bias! Well, this recent group actually remeasured the skulls and found out that it was Gould that was biased and that if anything the original sample was more correct.

Science is supposed to be totally objective. As we can see from this discussion it’s not, and cannot be. Why? We’re human. However, the system works really well as a whole. In my next blog I’ll discuss some of the ways we can address issues of fraud other concerns that I’ve mentioned over the past two days.

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