Friday links: a major scientific fraud case (no, not that one), vaccines vs. on-campus classes, and more

Also this week: science says you won’t finish that manuscript draft by the end of the month, Brood X vs. Gen X, urban biodiversity vs. grocery store, and more.

From Jeremy:

This new as-yet-unreviewed preprint has data on how long undergrads, grad students, and postdocs take to complete tasks, vs. how long they thought the tasks would take. Apparently, we all greatly underestimate how long it will take us to write stuff up, and to code stuff up.

Proposals to massively expand NSF are gaining political momentum.

Brown University will require its students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Cornell is going to require it too. Last week, I linked to the news that Rutgers would require it. I remain curious how many universities in the US (and elsewhere?) will require their students to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by next fall in order to return to campus. And whether they’re going to offer online-only versions of their courses for students who aren’t vaccinated, or who don’t want to be on campus for whatever reason.

A top German psychologist, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, is under criminal investigation, after a university investigation concluded he faked data associated with a multi-million euro research project, engaged in an elaborate coverup, and intimidated whistleblowers. Here’s some broader statistical context on scientific misconduct.

Dave Bresnahan, legend. 🙂 This is hilarious, but I find it legitimately uplifting too.

Perhaps nature is healing too much. 🙂

Where is MST3K when you need it? 🙂

Brood X or Gen X? 🙂

12 thoughts on “Friday links: a major scientific fraud case (no, not that one), vaccines vs. on-campus classes, and more

  1. I have always been extremely intrigued by deception. There is a trade-off between cooperation and deception and much has been written from different disciplines (e.g. game theory, prospect theory). In humans, deception is very tempting, since we can build up very sophisticated strategies using our fabulous brain. The natural world shows the huge number of benefits a cheater may obtain. Look at Lance Armstrong, the ‘best’ cyclist of all times. Let’s imagine that, as scientists, we take some pills and as a result, our chances to get papers accepted in Nature and Science would rise exponentially -and the rest is in hands of the Matthew effect: you would have more chances to get large grants, then awards, then more awards, more grants and more papers and so on and on. This is tempting, I guess. One of the darkest side of this issue is bullying: Armstrong, like this psychologist, acted as Mafia’s capos and bullied their colleagues to keep their secret (and their status). If you are interested in deception and you like cycling, do not miss “Stop at nothing”, in my view the best documentary about Armstrong, where it is explained how he damaged the personal and professional life of many people, including friends.

    • I share your interest in the similarities and contrasts among scientific fraudsters, and between scientific fraudsters and other sorts of fraudsters, like Lance Armstrong.

      Bullying the people around you who could blow the whistle on you certainly is something that this German psychologist seems to share with Lance Armstrong and various other fraudsters. How widely that trait is shared among fraudsters, I’m not sure. For instance, as far as I can recall Diederik Stapel didn’t bully those around him, either before or after suspicions were raised and investigations began.

      It’s also interesting to think about similarities and differences between different areas of life in terms of the overall prevalence of fraudsters. In science, all the evidence indicates that fraudsters are a very small minority, even if–actually, especially if–you restrict attention to leading scientists, and even if you allow for the possibility that a majority of fraudsters are never detect. I don’t know much about elite road cycling, but from what I vaguely recall from news reports, an appreciable fraction of elite road cyclists were blood doping back in Armstrong’s day. (someone correct me if I’m wrong!)

      In terms of the incentives to commit fraud, you rightly note that there are strong incentives to do it. I’d add that there are strong incentives not to as well. For instance, the possibility of being caught and sanctioned is a disincentive. I’d also add that a lot of fraudsters (in science, and other areas) don’t really seem to be rationally evaluating rewards and risks. And clearly, lots of scientists who *don’t* commit fraud are subject to the same incentives as those who do. So incentives to commit fraud are part of the story, but only part. Perhaps a pretty small part in some situations.

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