TED Conversations

richard moody jr


This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Is our faith in the High Priests of Science misplaced?

The problem with ‘science’ is that it has been misplaced in the hierarchy of methods of investigating and understanding things, it has been incorrectly elevated to the role of the High Priest of knowledge and wisdom and as such, it has sought to provide answers where its role should be limited to that of observation, experiment and measurement. Is it this elevation of science to a level which it really does not deserve that tempts many scientists to act in dishonest ways to further or maintain their own professional or personal status within their own discipline within the scientific community?

A recurring theme of dishonesty and plagiarism occurs throughout the history of science in the work of people such as Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton and Einstein to name just a few. Is the dubious behavior of such figures a contributory cause or result of their iconic status? Is it surprising that if such iconic figures can engage in unethical behavior that ‘lesser’ scientists follow the trend? Why is science not sufficiently self-regulating and self-correcting?

Then moving on to more profound questions, we ask what damage is caused to Science by fraud, plagiarism and other unprofessional behavior? And, of particularly great importance, to what extent have these actions created false or flawed scientific paradigms and what blind alleys and over what periods of time have these possibly false paradigms delayed true scientific advancement?

Sadly, we do see in science not just a few bad apples but a systemic problem with misconduct. The following statement by Fanelli is shocking, “Among research trainees in biomedical sciences at the University of California San Diego 4.9% said they had modified research results in the past, 81% were willing to select, omit or fabricate data to win a grant or publish a paper.”This is the next generation of scientists who should be striving to maintain the highest levels of integrity in their chosen professions.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 12 2013: Your describing unethical people here not science. You are suggesting that if there are unethical people within a discipline then that discipline is wrong.
    • Jun 12 2013: No---I'm rejecting the "ivory tower" view of science. We have been led to believe that there is a certain sense of honor amongst scientists that may place them ahead of the vast "unwashed masses". Scientists are no better or worse ethically than any other human population, but when we fall into the trap that they are the repository of supreme wisdom, this blinds us to the very real problem that they are all too human often driven by motives that are undesirable.
      • thumb
        Jun 13 2013: Science helps us understand our natural world. I believe the more we understand how the natural world works the more we will understand ourselves, God and the purpose for our existence. We were given a mind to think and a universe to explore. Without science we could have never taken to the seas or landed on the moon. I could only say what I feel inside and that is I would rather explore my mind than follow blindly into what was before.
      • Jun 14 2013: So the problem is not with scientists, but with the way they have been presented in the media.
        • Jun 14 2013: Absolutely---if the media were not subject to hyperbole and the need to separate out of the mass of scientists, "heroes", instead of recognizing that science connects "the known to the known". What the media likes to ignore is that it is predominantly "journeyman" researchers we never hear about i.e. average scientists who build the disciplines.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.