(Professor Frink, The Simpsons)
Few scientists fabricate results from scratch or flatly plagiarize the work of others, but a surprising number engage in troubling degrees of fact-bending or deceit, according to the first large-scale survey of scientific misbehavior.
More than 5 percent of scientists answering a confidential questionnaire admitted to having tossed out data because the information contradicted their previous research or said they had circumvented some human research protections.
Ten percent admitted they had inappropriately included their names or those of others as authors on published research reports.
And more than 15 percent admitted they had changed a study’s design or results to satisfy a sponsor, or ignored observations because they had a "gut feeling" they were inaccurate.
I have no doubt that scientists are involved in fact-bending. After working on a scientific project for years, there’s probably a strong temptation to cheat.
I have something to reveal that has remained hidden for many years. I faked some data in a science project.
I should first say that I’ve never cheated on a test in my life, but one summer I found my Achilles’ heel. I was a junior in high school and I got a scholarship to go to Michigan State University for a summer science program, where I was supposed to work on my Westinghouse Project (now called the Intel Science Talent Search). To win a Westinghouse was like winning the Oscar for best science project.
My project: I was going to use an aerobic soil-dwelling organism called Azotobacter vinelandii to help make wheat grow into some sort of super-wheat. I was personally going to solve the world’s hunger problem and win the Nobel Prize (or at least get into a good college). During the course of the summer, the other science nerds and I worked on our projects.
One beautiful summer day, I must have been flirting with Hoshiko, the brainy Japanese girl from New Jersey, when I accidentally put my spit into the pipet. Weeks later, my data made no sense. My spit and the Azotobacter vinelandii had spent the nights mating, rather than growing my wheat into super-wheat. I knew my destiny was to save the world from hunger, so a few changes here and there in the data put my experiment back on track.
No, I didn’t win the Westinghouse, but I did come in 2nd place in the Queens County Science Fair. I never saw Hoshiko again, either. I saw the way she looked at me at the end of the summer. She knew and she was disappointed in me — the first in several woman to feel that way. When I finally went to college at Columbia, I switched my major to English Literature, an academic endeavor where making up nonsense in term papers was perfectly acceptable.
Boy, that felt good to get off my chest. I don’t want to start another religion discussion, but maybe Catholics have it right with that confession thing.