NSTA members ask and answer one anothers’ questions about science teaching every day via the listserv, and the topics are fascinating. The latest question, trending on our NGSS list, focuses on dishonest science. The answers and comments are eye-opening!
“We’re exploring what it means to be principled and show integrity in science and I’m wondering if you know of any famous (or not so famous) NON-examples of integrity in science? When did dishonesty in reporting data lead to some devastating consequences? Any insights are appreciated!”
—Sara Severance, 8th Grade Physical Science Teacher, McAuliffe International School, Denver, CO
(question shared here with her permission)
Top Answers from NSTA Members
- In 1998 Andrew Wakefield and colleagues published an article in the Lancet that the MMR vaccine may predispose children “to behavioral regression and pervasive developmental disorder”. As a consequence, vaccination rates began to drop, and outbreaks of measles climbed. Other scientists immediately began researching the topic and could not replicate the results. After much investigation and debate, The Lancet completely retracted the article in 2010. Wakefield et al. were found to be guilty of deliberate fraud. If you do a search on this, you will find much more information, but here is a good article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136032/.
- Three quick ones: Univ. of Utah and cold fusion, South Korea and stem cell research, Ptolemy and changing the math/data to fit the heliocentric model of the universe (just covered a few minutes ago in my 8th grade Earth science class).
- I’m not sure if this is what you are thinking of, but the Tuskegee Syphilis Study from 1932-1972 is certainly an example of egregious human rights violations, racism, and deception done in the name of science. I mentioned it in my Introduction to Microbiology class last night. http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
- There’s also the classic case of the Summerlin’s spotted mice. Here’s a fairly recent editorial on the 1974 case, http://w.astro.berkeley.edu/~kalas/ethics/documents/painted-mouse.pdf. It was also reported on by Peter Medawar in his great essay book, The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays in Science.
- Here is an interesting article with links to experiments that – for various reasons including dishonesty and confirmation bias – were not reproducible by others: http://ncse.com/blog/2016/04/now-word-from-captain-obvious-0017038.
- How about Watson & Crick stealing Rosalind Franklin’s data? They end up with the Nobel prize and she dies of cancer.
- I am wondering about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa Cells. The Smithsonian has some good information on her and there is also the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
- Scott Reuben falsified data on postoperative pain that had a major impact. Here is one link: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-medical-madoff-anesthestesiologist-faked-data/. You can easily find more. I teach 6-8 MYP Integrated Science and use it at the beginning of the year to exemplify ‘Principled’ and ‘consequences’. It’s a pretty appalling case.
- Here’s another one: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/07/01/researcher-who-spiked-rabbit-blood-to-fake-hiv-vaccine-results-slapped-with-rare-prison-sentence/.
A Word of Caution
Hat Tip to NSTA member Nathan F. for this reminder: “I think we need to be careful of using isolated examples of poor science. Students may extrapolate to “you can’t trust science” instead of ‘peer review is important makes science a self-correcting system.’ This is where we as teachers need to use our expertise. I can envision a list of quality research projects a mile long and a list or poor research much much shorter.”
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Do you have examples that you use with your students? Please share your comments with us!
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