The Jilting of Athene
The Jilting of Athene
New Scientist Septembr 5, 1968
 Dennis Rosen is reader in biophysics at Chelsea College of Science and Technology, University of London
Athene is the goddess of wisdom and of the arts and sciences. Although the great majority of scientists are true to the ethics of their profession and the spins of the goddess, a few are less scrupulous
In the vast number of books now available covering the history, practice and procedures of science, an index entry for Fraud will be sought in vain. Only rarely, and then not on account of Fraud, does Fraunhofer fail to succeed Franklin. Chapters are written on errors, but the subclassifications are of the type "Random (methods of dealing with)" or "Experimental (techniques for the reduction of)". Are errors, then, never deliberate and do scientists never cheat? It must be admitted that some of them sometimes do. This should occasion no surprise: scientists are members of society and in societies where duplicity often pays off, a scientist anxious for prestige or a bigger research grant or both may feel irresistibly tempted to make fanciful claims. A more serious matter, in my view, and one which occasions the writing of this article, is that rather few known cases of fraud are publicly exposed as such by those in a position to do so. As a result, it is possible to make a private collection of instances, most of which cannot be published because of the libel laws; and at the same time the cheat who makes a public confession assumes the stature of a Greek tragic hero.
In anatomizing scientific fraud it should be scarcely necessary to eliminate
the scientific hoax from consideration. Indeed, hoaxes are welcome in providing
rare relief from the tedium of most papers published in the learned journals.
Probably even a layman would appreciate that the contraceptive agent suggested
by Dr J. S. Greenstein, in the Christmas Day issue of the Canadian Medical
Association Journal of 1965, the polynitrosobenzene compound.
with each-NO-group guaranteeing exactly 24 hours of contraceptive efficacy, was offered as a joke. Unfortunately, most scientists are so professionally solemn that even some jokes have been taken literally.
Whereas hoaxes usually give themselves away by an excess of schoolboy
humour, the most successful frauds evidently merge undetected into the jungle
of scientific literature, camouflaged additionally by the possibility of
a genuine mistake or even a half-excusable self-deception on the part of
the author, to say nothing of the innocence and ignorance of the reader.
Nevertheless, it is possible to make classifications of frauds. One such,
starting at the most grandiose and working down, could put the manufacture
of the sole acceptable piece of evidence in the first class, of a necessarily
rare or improbable piece in the second class, and so on, reaching finally
the minor manipulations of experimental data which any other scientist could
check if he had the time and interest to do so.