September 14, 2011

Scientific fraud

Tilburg University in The Netherlands has suspended Diederik Stapel, a prominent social psychologist, over fabricating data in some of his published studies. According to Tilburg University Rector Philip Eijlander Stapel has admitted to using faked data. More details about this affair can be found here and here.

Recently, I wrote this post: Improving science. My aim was to explain that there is a difference between an idealized description of the scientific enterprise on the one hand and scientific practice on the other.
Science is often idealistically described as a self-correcting process through which scientists, standing on each other's shoulders slowly but surely unveil all aspects of reality. Realistically, though, while science as an idea is wonderful, there are many aspects of scientific practice which actually require improvement.

Some argue that a fraud like the data fabrication by Stapel was bound to come out. But I am not so sure about this. The scientific misconduct appears to have been happening for many years (although this has not yet officially been confirmed).

Is this just the tip of the ice berg? How can we know? My previous post mentions some weaknesses of different parts of the scientific process. Thinking about these weaknesses makes one wonder whether scientific fraud like this is bound to be detected.

Question: What do you think of this? Should scientists be required to send their dataset along when they submit their articles for peer review? Or would this be going too far?

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