By Anna Giarratana
Integrity—it’s important in any field. From politics to science, integrity is one of the basic tenets preached around the country. We hear about breaches to codes of ethics almost every day. We can’t escape the travails of people in the public eye and their immoral mistakes—from politicians sleeping with interns to athletes avoiding paying gambling debts. However, we rarely hear about the integrity of scientists, perhaps to our detriment.
Being a scientifically minded person, I thoroughly respect the plight of the research scientist. Scientific research is a tough life, replete with failures, lightened only by the small glimmer of hope of discovery. So I despise the writings of people who attack the work of these experts, caricaturing people who are working for a cure to the problems that plague society into mad scientists intent on destroying the work of God.
Recently in one of my classes, a guest speaker came to speak about his writings on genetically modified organisms. His main thesis, from my point of view, was that scientific progress in the field of agriculture was the largely work of irresponsible scientists, experimenting without any regard for future consequences. While people are understandably wary of change, scientists working their hardest to help solve issues like world hunger should be supported rather than attacked.
However, when scientists assume they know the answer to a problem and receive money to conduct research from those who support that presupposed solution, ethics have clearly been breached. For example, for years tobacco companies paid scientist to conduct research proving smoking does not cause disease. Today we see the obvious conflict of interests inherent in these smoking experiments, but there are also current issues just as problematic, even if they do not immediately appear so.
One of these problems involves the work scientists are doing on global warming. A recent New York Times report on the research and exchanges of British climate scientists revealed some very bad science. Emails between these scientists exposed a confusion omitted from published work and presentations to policy makers. These scientists roundly criticized a published piece that questioned the dangers of global warming, subjecting the journal and editor who published the paper to group bullying and sabotage.
As if this bullying wasn’t enough, reports the scientist had presented to policy makers were grievously flawed. Charts and graphs were made that had a strong visual impact, but omitted certain “irrelevant” data. Methods changed over the years, yet data from different methods were included on one graph. These charts simply looked dramatic and supported the presupposed conclusion.
Scientists clearly play a vital role in society. However, bad science—work dictated by groupthink and a desire to prove a certain conclusion—abounds. We must stick by the principles we have learned at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. We must be conscious and unbiased in our research and in presenting our results. Otherwise we allow the other people to be right, supporting their claims that there is nothing behind the scientific facts we present.
Giarratana, a senior chemistry major, can be reached at email@example.com.