Tag Archives: commercialization of science

WHY IS IT SO VERY HARD TO ELIMINATE FRAUD AND CORRUPTION IN SCIENTISTS?

 

Ordinary Career Goals Easily Have Room for Cheating!   (dr-monsrs.net)
Ordinary Science Faculty Goals Easily Can Encourage Corruption!                               (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

             Today in 2014, nobody knows exactly how much dishonesty is occurring in science (see my recent post on “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” in the Basic Introductions category).  Clear examples of cheating by research scientists continue to be discovered every year [e.g., 1,2].  This ethical problem always is potentially present, can be very destructive, and has several known causes (see my recent post of “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” in the Big Problems category).  The problem of cheating and corruption in science is particularly hard to solve because the great majority of lapses in professional ethics remain unrecognizable and undetected. 

 

            Unethical behavior in modern scientific research at universities is encouraged by 4 changes from previous conditions that impact all faculty scientists. 

                        1.  Within universities, science has changed its goals from the discovery of new and true knowledge into the acquisition of commercial developments, obtaining more and more external research grant money, and achieving as many published research reports as possible.  In such an atmosphere, cheating and deceit are simply the result of the large pressures generated by these new goals (see my posts on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” in the Basic Introductions category, and “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” in the Big Problems category). 

                        2.  Today’s doctoral researcher employed in academia is so overwhelmed by the numerous demands for their time and effort that it is natural to search for easy ways to save precious time and speed up research progress (see my recent post on “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so Very Hectic?” in the Scientists category). 

                        3.  Science and research always function immersed within the surrounding environment.  In the modern USA, research scientists are working today within a society where deception, fraud, insincerity, and even outright lying are too often considered useful and clever in advertising, all levels of education, business and commerce, court and legal activities, entertainment, federal and state governments, law enforcement, manufacturing, and, sports.  Thus, it would be nothing short of a miracle if some few scientists do not also follow these widespread unethical practices. 

                        4.  Money now is over-emphasized in scientific research (see my earlier post on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” in the Big Problems category).  The hyper-competition for research grants pervades all aspects of being a busy faculty scientist  (see my recent posts on “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” in the Essays category, and “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” in the Scientists category).  The large pressures created by this condition easily can overwhelm any superficial adherence to honesty by some faculty researchers who are not sufficiently tied to the need of science professionals for total integrity. 

 

            Why is dishonesty so very bad for science that it must be eliminated?  Corruption in science breaks down trust by the public, by fellow researchers and other scholars, and by commercial interests.  Any breakdown of trust can be very destructive and usually spreads.  The whole enterprise of experimental science is based upon the trust that research results published by scientists are real, and that reported experiments will work as described when they later are repeated by other investigators.  Any falsification of research data and conclusions in journals or books can have devastating later consequences (e.g., doctoral research scientists working at some large pharmaceutical firm do not object when they recognize that their results with testing of a new drug have been manipulated by company executive administrators to remove the experimental evidence for some side effects).  Scientific and legal controversies originating or supported by fraudulent results and biased conclusions not only are a huge waste of time, but also waste large amounts of money. 

           

            Why can’t some “minor dishonesty” in research be tolerated?  This would have unfortunate practical consequences.  For all future research work, the “slightly dishonest researcher” must be expected to be willing to cheat again; this expectation follows from basic human nature.  Any and all research results from that person cannot ever again be taken at face value, but have to be independently verified by further experiments and tests.  Once trust by fellow research scientists is broken, it cannot be readily reassembled, barring development of some effective efforts with rehabilitation (see my recent post on “Important Article by Daniel Cressey in 2013 Nature” in the Big Problems category). 

           

            Are current efforts to try to control dishonesty in scientific research having good effects?  The penalties for dishonesty in research and the resultant breakdown in trust usually are not very severe.  In the past, most instances with detection of cheating and dishonesty have not produced very strong effects upon the perpetrator.  The recent federal laws designed to protect whistleblowers from retribution are well-intentioned, but do not attain their supposed aims.  Continuing to ignore this problem certainly will not make it go away.  History already proves that wishful thinking will not change the ongoing presence of corruption in science.  Although all research scientists will profess to have very strong standards of honesty, most will not ever take action if some corruption is observed or alleged.  The appointment of officials in charge of research integrity in universities is increasing and might help improve this problem in the future, but without strengthening all the other measures needed, this is likely to have only a nominal effect. Thus, I must conclude that current efforts to deal with dishonesty in science are not effective!

 

            Fraud and corruption in scientific research are especially hard to eliminate because: (1) their ultimate basis is normal human nature (i.e., working to increase fame and fortune), (2) they often are extremely hard to detect and very difficult to prove (i.e., allegations of dishonesty are meaningless without explicit authenticated documentation), (3) they are strongly stimulated by the enormous job pressures coming from granting agencies and universities (i.e., the time problem, and the money problem), and, (4) the penalties for being caught at corruption in science presently are too limited and not harsh enough.  Clearly, one cannot change the first condition (human nature), but the other 3 conditions can and must be changed in order to achieve much more extensive progress in dealing with this difficult ongoing problem.  Although it previously has been very difficult to eliminate dishonesty in science, I believe that this major problem for modern scientific research can be greatly improved by addressing these 3 areas.

 

            If cheating and fraud in science are so very hard to detect and prove, what can de done to stop dishonesty and corruption by scientists from becoming more frequent?  The biggest chance for success in eliminating the issue of dishonesty for modern science is to institute 3 large changes: (1) much more intense education about the need for research scientists to always be 100% honest, (2) much more effective and vigorous efforts to detect dishonesty in scientific research, and (3) much harsher penalties must be handed out for admitted or proven  unethical behavior by research scientists.  Making these 3 changes will help tip the balance when some weaker individual scientists are faced with any temptation to take the easy way out rather than maintain their professional integrity.  

 

          [1]  Mail Online, 2014.  Rogue scientist faked AIDS research funded with $19M in taxpayer funded money by spiking rabbit blood.  Daily Mail (U.K.), 26 December 2013.  Available online at:
http://dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529541/Rogue-scientist-FAKED-federally-funded-AIDS-
research-spiking-rabbit-blood.html .

         [2]  Callaway, E., 2011.  Report finds massive fraud at Dutch universities.  Nature, 479:15.  Also available on the internet at::  http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111101/full/479015a.html .

 

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WHAT IS THE VERY BIGGEST PROBLEM FOR SCIENCE TODAY?

 Top Secret FINAL     What is the very biggest problem for science/scientists at universities ?                                                (http://dr-monsrs.net)


           Quite frankly, I believe that science and research now have several very difficult large problems.  The thousands of doctoral scientists around the world who are working in universities generally either are not very aware of these serious issues, or feel helpless to challenge the status quo.  Do I believe that the widespread estrangement of the public from science and research is the biggest problem?  No I don’t!  Is the fact that there never seems to be enough money to support research the biggest problem?  Not in my opinion!  Do I consider that the biggest problem is the disastrous consequences that good scientific research has had for Fukushima, recombinant agricultural crops, modern weapons systems, etc.?  No I don’t!  My personal opinion is that the number one biggest problem for science today is the commercialization of research within universities.  This change in the direction of scientific investigations produces bad consequences for the public, including you and me.  What has caused this large change to develop?  What are its effects for scientific research?

           

            The many research scientists and engineers working in industrial laboratories always have worked knowingly within the context of trying to increase the commercial profits of their employer.  Any given study in industrial labs can be stopped abruptly for business reasons, as well as because the research experiments are not progressing in a satisfactory manner.  This industrial system seems to have worked out quite well in most cases.  However, until recently, basic research by scientists working in academia has not been directly involved with business profits.  The new commercialization of scientific research in universities markedly changes this traditional situation.

            

           Basic scientists formerly obtained money from government research support programs in order to be able to pay the costs of conducting experimental studies within universities.  Via commercialization, things now have switched around so that university science faculty seek research grant awards to enable  their employer to gather increased income and profits; scientific research is only the means to this mercenary end.  In other words, the current aim is simply to get as much money as possible, thereby raising profits for the employing university.  Many science faculty become quite dismayed when they come to realize that the real goal is the money, not the research itself.

            

           Different universities and specialty schools now commonly are compared and ranked on the basis of their annual total research grant awards.  This vigorous lust for research grants has become the major reason why doctoral scientists are hired as faculty in academia.  The professional reputation of a faculty researcher conducting experimental studies in any branch of science now is mainly determined by the total amount of dollars in their research grant awards; such features as innovation, significance, difficulty, and quality in their research findings is of distant importance.  Similarly, the quality of their teaching activities now is strictly of secondary concern.  The entire nature of being a faculty scientist has changed.

            

           Scientific research in academia thus has been turned into just another business activity.  Faculty scientists now are fully part of this new commercialized system where universities openly grasp for increased profits.  Many universities try to explain their shift into seeking profits from research grant awards as a necessary response to declining alumni donations, shrinking endowments, decreasing enrollments, increasing regulations and administrative expenditures, and, the inflating costs for everything.  They can no longer utilize their traditional practice of simply charging students more and more for tuition each year, but it is easy to hide the new commercialization of  their science faculty.  The accompanying negative consequences of this situation are either denied or ignored by these same universities.

            

           Commercialization affects all aspects of being a faculty researcher.  Any academic research scientist working to find the cause or a cure for some disease now almost always is looking around simultaneously to identify which commercial companies will be interested in developing and marketing this wonderful new knowledge.  Those faculty researchers in materials science who are investigating a new type of coating that can reduce friction by several hundred-fold now almost always are simultaneously wondering if it would be better to first contact an established firm selling coatings, or to form a new start-up firm, before they publish anything.  Academic institutions generally have dedicated offices for aiding their faculty scientists to acquire patents and participate in commercial ventures jointly with industrial partners.  In all these cases, the possibilities for later profit have become the chief driver, if not the actual purpose, for the investigational efforts by faculty scientists. 

           

            Although the traditional aim of basic scientific research was to find new knowledge and discover what is true, the search for truth now seems idealistic and is disappearing from view.  For pure basic science, which seeks new knowledge for its own sake, there usually had been very little of looking to acquire profits from a research discovery; if the new basic knowledge later helps the public, then so much the better, but this was not the aim of the experimentation.  Increased commercialization now has spread everywhere throughout basic research.  In turn, this modern re-direction of research efforts strongly encourages applied research and equally strongly de-emphasizes basic research. 

            

           What are the main consequences of this ongoing commercialism in academic science?  The chief effect is that the ever-increasing importance of profits causes the down-sizing of basic research.  Indeed, to a growing extent, both research investigations in universities and the enthusiasm of the granting agencies now are directed towards applied research and engineering rather than to basic studies.  Why is it considered horrible if basic investigations are disfavored and diminishing?  The reason is that almost all of the wonderful new high technology devices and other features that characterize modern life have arisen by the work of applied scientists and engineers upon the preceding discoveries by basic researchers.  Basic science is the necessary precursor to later studies and developments by applied scientists and engineers.  If basic research decreases its production of new findings, there will inevitably follow a slowing of new and improved products and processes; that will have negative effects upon everyone.  

            

           Yet other bad effects of the commercialization of university science include: (1) creativity, formation of new concepts, and curiosity are decreased inside the research endeavor; (2) the conduct of experimental studies are made more mechanical, and more studies are channeled towards large groups where each individual scientist necessarily becomes a doctoral technician, rather than an independent thinker and creative doer; and, (3) as individual activities and creativity in basic science are increasingly smothered, so is the traditional main source being lessened for new thoughts, unconventional ideas, new concepts, and perception of unexpected interrelationships.  The new chief aim of acquiring financial profits (i.e., as research grants) further subverts the traditional conduct of scientific research in academia by exposing it to all the greed, cheating, and underhanded actions that are sadly characteristic of the dynamics of money in too many modern businesses.  All these effects from pervasive commercialization are having a very negative influence on the progress of science in the modern world.

           

            There are many other important aspects of this subject, and all of these are very infrequently discussed.  I will deal much further with commercialization and other modern problems for science and for research by university faculty within future postings. 

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