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Science has inarguably done many things to make the world a better place. But science is far from perfect, and there have been some notable slip ups in the form of falsification of data, ethically dubious studies, and suddenly missing data. While some of these have led to retracted studies and papers, many people still believe the original data. Check out these 123 science scandals and update your knowledge.
1. Andrew Wakefield
Andrew Wakefield was the first proponent of the idea that vaccines cause autism in his research into the MMR vaccine. However 12 years after publication, review boards found that not only had he subjected developmentally disabled youth to unnecessary and invasive procedures, he had also falsified data. His claims were discredited and his medical license revoked.
2. Sigmund Freud
While Freud was revolutionary in early psychology, the researcher Frederick Crews published a series of essays from experts who had studied Freud’s letters as well as contemporary case studies that showed a very different side to Freud (Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend). Freud claimed to have tested and verified many of his theories surrounding sexuality, when, in fact, most of them are untestable. In some cases, he changed facts about his patients (turning a 17-year-old into an 18-year-old), and ignored patients’ own claims about their experiences. One of the more egregious examples of this included a young girl telling him that an older man had made sexual comments at her from the time she was 13, which Freud interpreted to mean that the girl wanted to sleep with the man.
3. Deidrik Stapel
Stapel was a psychology researcher in the Netherlands when he was accused in 2011 of huge amounts of falsified data and made up experiments. He was widely published in splashy subjects like racism and sexism, but after further research, an investigating committee found that he did not show his data to any other researchers and so was able to draw unfounded conclusions. The scandal pointed towards larger issues in the field of psychology around data, oversight, and pressure to publish.
4. Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories
In the 1960s and 70s, IBT was a huge player in chemicals and pharmaceuticals. But it all fell apart in the late 1970s when an investigation discovered that IBT had lied to the EPA about the results of its data, allowing over 150 pesticides and chemicals that had been shown to be dangerous to be used in commercial products. Unfortunately, even after trial, many of these chemicals continue to be used.
5. Marc Hauser
Marc Hauser was a leading researcher in primatology and evolutionary biology, as well as a professor at Harvard until 2011, when he was found guilty of scientific misconduct. Most of the details of the inquiry have been kept quiet, but other researchers point towards his cotton-top tamarin study that suggested these monkeys could identify themselves in mirrors. When other researchers acquired access to his data and videos they found no evidence of this. Students and research assistants also suggest that there was a pattern of data falsification. Hauser lost his position at Harvard and his grant research money.
6. Dong-Pyou Han
Dr. Dong-Pyou Han was a researcher at Stanford working on an AIDS vaccine. After reporting that he had found a vaccine that would neutralize HIV, an investigation found that he had contaminated his samples, and the conclusions were unusable. The finding was a blow to many who thought the study had shown promise of helping in the fight against AIDS.
7. Rosalind Franklin
Everyone knows who discovered the shape of DNA, right? It was Watson and Crick. The reality is more complicated. Within the scientific community, there is little question that Watson and Crick’s model drew heavily from work by Rosalind Franklin, someone they do not credit in their work. However due to Franklin moving to a new college and some confusion about who had done the work, how to credit it, and how the information had moved from Franklin’s college to Watson and Crick, Franklin’s contributions went unnoticed for 25 years. Even now, Watson and Crick’s names are still synonymous with the model of DNA.
8. Stanford Prison Experiment
There are many problems with the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this psychological experiment, Philip Zombardo selected 25 participants to randomly take on the roles of guards or prisoners in a faux prison. He found that they quickly adapted to these roles, with the guards going to extremes of abuse of authority and even psychological torture. But even beyond the ethical problems with this study, subsequent researchers have questioned the set up of the study and whether we can trust the results. The first issue is selection bias. Zombardo included the phrase “prison life” in his advertisement for participants. Subsequent studies have found that this phrase brings in more aggressive participants than simply calling for “psychological research”. Additionally, many of the guards did not exhibit abusive behavior, with one guard in particular pushing most of the abuse. Finally, Zombardo himself took on the role of superintendent of the prison, something most researchers believe would skew the results so far as to make them unusable.