Thursday, January 16, 2020

Converted Twitter Response: Fraud versus Errors

There was a Twitter discussion emphasizing how identifying problems in papers shouldn't be thought of as an attack on science (and it is important not to undermine things that have been shown more robustly).

In particular, an estimate of the science-wide fraud rate of 5-10% was suggested (and I have converted my multi-part Twitter responses into a blog post).  I think 5-10% is in roughly the ballpark of a 2% estimate mentioned in a book called “Fraud in the Lab” (which I really liked).  That is also in the similar range of a 5% loss for businesses reported by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (which I learned about from reading "Talking to Strangers".  However, I would like to think the 2% fraud rate is more accurate.  However, this report makes it looks like fraud in other situations often goes unpunished, and there are costs to finding and correcting fraud.

However, I think intentions are important.  For example, I think the error rate is higher than the fraud rate.  I mention a couple citations with very different estimates in this blog post (where I hope the 15-25% error rate is more accurate, compared to considerably higher estimates).

In other words, if somebody is overworked, then they can make mistakes.  However, if a way is found for them to have an appropriate workload, then they can be a productive and helpful member of society.

That is different than somebody who intentionally creates misleading information (and/or coerces a subordinate to commit crimes), without hesitation or concern about the consequences.

I think it is also important that we train ourselves not to do things that we may regret in the long-run due to fear / pressure / competition in the short-term (as early as possible in your career).  That would be true for everybody, not just scientists.

For example, if you use your personal connections to get results published more quickly (with less rigorous / critical assessment), then that is bad for science (even if it can help you get grants/funding).  So, there can be a difference between “science” and “scientists.”

I also believe admitting mistakes is important (and needs to have better consequences than denying that you have done something wrong).  For example, I think how somebody reacts to a correction / retraction is important.

So, I think most scientists are fundamentally good, but changes in policies and other structures can improve to help them reach their full potential (and conduct science as fairly and objectively as possible).

Change Log:

1/16/2020 - public post
6/20/2020 - test reverting draft that is later made up public (confirm that original publication date stays the same)
7/26/2020 - add business fraud rate statistic

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