Brute Reason

A collection of thoughts about psychology, social justice, and anything else I give a shit about. freethoughtblogs.com/brutereason

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my actual writing, if you're curious

Among academics, scientific misconduct probably occurs because of two interlinked phenomena: competition and cynicism. Competition in academia is ubiquitous, but is also important for scientific progress. It has always been that way, although competition now seems to be more intense than ever because of government-imposed performance assessment, such as the research excellence framework in the UK, and because resources to fund research are tight. The sad truth is that the science enterprise has been almost too successful for its own good, and there are now large numbers of scientists fighting over a diminishing pot of funds.

[…]Cynicism in academia is also widespread. When the research funding system is unfair or even just seems to be – and that appears increasingly to be the case – some academics become disaffected and treat research as a game to be won at any cost. If established academics cut corners to secure funds or to publish in high places, it is likely – virtually inevitable – that their research students will follow their lead. Our own experience as both scientists and teachers suggests to us that the problem begins with, and may be partially solved by, education.

Among undergraduates, scientific misconduct is also driven by competition, but by competition for grades rather than for publications. Again, this is an indirect consequence of government policy: grades determine qualifications and credentials, and students and their institutions alike stand or fall on the number and quality of their degrees. As a consequence, real education plays second fiddle to grade acquisition.

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