Science, fraud and bias

A chara, – William Reville's "Fraud is now the biggest enemy of science", outlining the problem of researchers falsifying data to increase their chances of being published, made for sobering reading (Science, June 3rd). Particularly worrying was the statement, "Such misconduct is not confined to physics, chemistry and biology but is also widespread across the "softer" sciences such as psychology".

When these concerns are combined with those raised in his article of February 5th, “Why are so many social scientists left-liberal?”, and the way in which this acknowledged bias skews research in that area, it makes it difficult to know who to trust when it comes to the scientific experts we increasingly rely on in modern society to provide us with the facts we need to make informed decisions. The existence of widespread fraud and bias across a broad range of fields needs to be tackled before, to use Prof Reville’s words, the “enterprise fails”. – Is mise,




Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I respectfully disagree with Prof William Reville. The June 3rd article draws heavily on a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences PNAS that found that the percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraudulent results has risen tenfold since 1975. From this result, Prof Reville concludes that “Misconduct in science is a huge problem” and he suggests that “We badly need a special Hippocratic oath for science”.

My reading of the PNAS study is quite different. In the first instance, the study does not state the number of retracted articles as a fraction of the total number of research articles published over the same period, making it difficult to establish whether retraction is a widespread phenomenon or rare. Second, the study was confined to one area of science only – biomedical research – and thus Prof Reville’s assertion that “such misconduct is not confined to physics, chemistry and biology” seems strange.

To my knowledge, the fraudulent reporting of research in my own field (physics) is relatively rare, and is usually exposed quite quickly.

Indeed, this self-correcting aspect of science is its greatest strength.

It seems to me that the “biggest enemy of science” is not fraud, but the rejection of well-established science by vested interests, from Big Tobacco lobbyists to climate change deniers. – Yours, etc,



School of Science

and Computing,

Waterford Institute

of Technology.

Sir, – There is only one antidote to junk science and that’s good science, ie repeatable, verifiable and peer-reviewed scientific inquiry. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.