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Author Topic:   Does competition in science compromise integrity?
sinequanon
Member (Idle past 335 days)
Posts: 331
Joined: 12-17-2007


Message 1 of 6 (448131)
01-12-2008 7:36 AM


As in many other human endeavours competition plays its part in scientific research.

Are there any negative impacts of competition in science, and if so what are they?

Status, fame and money can be powerful incentives in a person's life. It is common to some extent, for people to compromise their integrity in pursuit of these goals. Are scientists any better than average?

Here's a hypothetical example.

Professor Blank is at the forefront of his field having been accredited with a breakthrough theory. He has status, fame and fortune. But, with his multi-million dollar funding for developing his theory, he has stumbled on a serious flaw. However, he realises that, given the expense and counterintuitiveness of the rogue test, it is unlikely anyone else will discover the glitch. Does he speak out and publicise it in the interests of science? Or does he keep quiet?

A little known junior scientist is proposing what he believes to be an alternative simpler theory. He is struggling for funding to test, support, and popularise his theory. Professor Blank gets to hear of it and finds that this new theory explains the case which his theory could not explain. He risks losing a lot of funding and his special status as originator of current theory. Do you expect him to speak up at this point in the interest of science? Or would his competitive streak interfere?

I think scientists have no more integrity than average and many would choose status, fame and money over integrity.


Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by nwr, posted 01-12-2008 9:12 AM sinequanon has not yet responded
 Message 3 by jar, posted 01-12-2008 10:08 AM sinequanon has not yet responded
 Message 4 by Quetzal, posted 01-12-2008 10:41 AM sinequanon has not yet responded
 Message 5 by Modulous, posted 01-12-2008 12:15 PM sinequanon has not yet responded
 Message 6 by Taz, posted 01-12-2008 1:20 PM sinequanon has not yet responded

  
nwr
Member
Posts: 5107
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005
Member Rating: 4.8


Message 2 of 6 (448142)
01-12-2008 9:12 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by sinequanon
01-12-2008 7:36 AM


As in many other human endeavours competition plays its part in scientific research.

I think you will find that, overall, cooperation is far more important than competition. New discoveries are usually driven by curiosity, rather than by competition. And often the main benefit to the discover is recognition from peers, not riches.

Sure, there are instances where the system has been abused. These usually come to light, and to a large extent the system is self correcting.

As for your hypothetical example, note that people don't just accept theories on the say-so of others. The conclusions will be critically tested by other scientists. By nature, scientists are skeptics.


Let's end the political smears
This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by sinequanon, posted 01-12-2008 7:36 AM sinequanon has not yet responded

  
jar
Member
Posts: 24504
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004


Message 3 of 6 (448163)
01-12-2008 10:08 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by sinequanon
01-12-2008 7:36 AM


Reality wins in the end.
Professor Blank gets to hear of it and finds that this new theory explains the case which his theory could not explain. He risks losing a lot of funding and his special status as originator of current theory. Do you expect him to speak up at this point in the interest of science?

People are people. In the long run someone else will also come up with the new explanation. That has been the history of advance for as far as we have records.

In the end, reality always wins.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!
This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by sinequanon, posted 01-12-2008 7:36 AM sinequanon has not yet responded

  
Quetzal
Member (Idle past 2151 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002


Message 4 of 6 (448175)
01-12-2008 10:41 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by sinequanon
01-12-2008 7:36 AM


Well, if things work the way they normally do, Professor Blank's "breakthrough" theory wouldn't be accepted by anyone else in his field until they'd replicated it. So ol' Blank knows he's got a couple of options:

1. Hide the negative results, as you postulate, and hope nobody notices. If he's as smart as you say, he probably won't try this - regardless of funding. See, the thing is, the history of science is littered with the broken careers of people who tried this and got caught (cf., cold fusion). The fact that this theory is so incredibly novel and earth-shaking that it can generate millions of dollars in subsequent funding (I really really REALLY want to know where this guy is getting those kinds of research bucks - I could use some of it) means that God and everybody in the field - and even outside the field - will be minutely looking at the research; whether through base motives like cashing in on the gravy train or jealously seeking to tear it down, or through more noble motives like the excitement of being involved in groundbreaking discoveries that significantly enhance our knowledge of the universe. In other words, the more earth-shattering the discovery, the more people are going to be picking at it with fine-toothed combs.

2. Beat everyone to the punch by publishing the negative results. This can actually be done in such a way that Blank not only gets to keep his funding (assuming the research is promising enough), but comes out smelling like a hero. If he was unethical enough (which you seem to suggest), he could even spin it to seem like the result was expected! This is probably the more likely result the way you've set up your hypothetical situation, honestly.

3. If Blank's REALLY unethical, he could conceivably steal the junior scientist's research and claim it for his own. Although the risk of exposure is pretty high, if 'ol Blank is as bad as you say, he might risk it. The junior scientist will quite possibly remain in obscurity - eclipsed by the big name. Ever hear of Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin? Alternatively, Blank could simply offer the junior scientist "joint publication". The big name is STILL likely to get the lion's share of the credit - and be the one mentioned in the history books (eg. Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin).

4. Coopt the insufferable little twit who dared to show the theory wrong by dangling some of that $$$$ funding in front of his eyes -especially if he's the poor starving scientist you portray. Blank would still get top billing on any publications (anyone who's been a grad or post-grad researcher knows how this works).

#2 is the MOST likely, with the damage control approaches in 3 and 4 coming in a distant second. The most UNLIKELY is the direct approach you suggest in #1 (hiding the research), for the reasons I noted.

I think you need to look a little harder at how research and the peer-review process is actually done in real life. That would have answered your question, I think.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by sinequanon, posted 01-12-2008 7:36 AM sinequanon has not yet responded

  
Modulous
Member
Posts: 6086
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005
Member Rating: 3.2


Message 5 of 6 (448195)
01-12-2008 12:15 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by sinequanon
01-12-2008 7:36 AM


Yep, science is imperfect yet it remains the best system we have. There are flaws: inherently so since it is a human pursuit and humans are not perfect. Fraud, orthodoxy and the like are always going to rear their head in human intellectual pursuit be it economics, theology or natural science.

We reduce the potential for crackpottery at the cost of increasing conservatism. It is a fine line, but there is no perfect place to sit anything, just better or worse ones. It is always good to have projects like the Integrity in Science project.

The thing to remember is that for every scientist with the power to maintain orthodoxy for his own benefit, is a scientist with equal power and the motivation to topple the orthodoxy. Sure, it might mean that the small voices on both sides of the discussion don't get heard as much - and there have been many times when a scientist is in the right place and right time to publish a certain idea or finding...only for some bookish type to later point out that somebody came up with the idea a long time ago but that it was largely ignored.

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by sinequanon, posted 01-12-2008 7:36 AM sinequanon has not yet responded

    
Taz
Member
Posts: 5037
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 6 of 6 (448211)
01-12-2008 1:20 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by sinequanon
01-12-2008 7:36 AM


sine writes:

But, with his multi-million dollar funding for developing his theory, he has stumbled on a serious flaw. However, he realises that, given the expense and counterintuitiveness of the rogue test, it is unlikely anyone else will discover the glitch. Does he speak out and publicise it in the interests of science? Or does he keep quiet?


I find this very very unlikely. EVERYTHING, and I do mean EVERYTHING, Prof Blank did has to be repeatable by EVERYONE who attempts to repeat the experiment. I find it hard to believe that not a single scientist would be able to notice a discrepency.

A little known junior scientist is proposing what he believes to be an alternative simpler theory. He is struggling for funding to test, support, and popularise his theory. Professor Blank gets to hear of it and finds that this new theory explains the case which his theory could not explain. He risks losing a lot of funding and his special status as originator of current theory. Do you expect him to speak up at this point in the interest of science? Or would his competitive streak interfere?

You've seen way too many sci-fi channel movies. It's always this little known persecuted scientist with a wacky idea that turns out to be right.

That's not how science is done.

Added by edit.

Let's not forget the 2 researchers that claimed they found cold fusion. After the ordeal, they couldn't even sell used cars.

Edited by Taz, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by sinequanon, posted 01-12-2008 7:36 AM sinequanon has not yet responded

  
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