Science is revered in modern society, almost like a religion. And as with religion, many people have blind faith in the power of science. When we read about studies or research in the media, many of us simply believe that what we’re reading is true. It’s based on science, after all. Unfortunately, the science it’s based on might be bought science.
In general, our confidence in science is good. It’s a step toward a future where people hold beliefs that are supported by facts. And when people hold beliefs supported by facts, the world should become a better place. Less discrimination, less hatred, fewer ineffective products and no more big pharma selling snake oil instead of effective drugs.
Why There’s So Much Corruption
So, why is there so much corruption in the scientific world? As is so often the case, it all comes down to money. All the stakeholders in the industry want to earn more money. Even parties with no genuine interest in research can earn money by exploiting the world’s veneration of science. Research institutes, researchers, journals, major corporations and even government all stand to benefit from bought science. Almost anyone who wants increase their sales can do so by paying to have a study yield the results they want.
Research Institutes and Researchers
The most important stakeholders in research are probably research institutes such as universities. Most of these institutes rely heavily on their reputations to obtain funding from large corporations and the government. And the best ways to earn a good reputation in this arena are to employ respected researchers and to publish as many studies as possible. Regrettably, this means that these institutes are not always interested in the quality of their researchers or research.
Similarly, researchers also want to earn more money. The best ways for them to do so are to work for prestigious research institutes and write as many books as possible. In order to be hired by one of these prestigious institutes and to have their books published, researchers need to have excellent reputations. And the best way for a researcher to create an excellent reputation is to publish as much of their research as they can. Publish or perish, remember? Again, this means that they are often not concerned with the quality of the research they publish. It also means that many of them can be bought with offers of funding.
Of course, while we’re discussing money we can’t ignore all the major corporations trying to sell their lousy products to the unsuspecting public. As always, they also want to make money by selling more of their products. In order to increase sales, they fund research into their products. This industry funded research is a controversial issue, because most of the time this type of research yields data to support the use of the industry’s product.
Another issue here is the suppression of research results, especially clinical trials for drugs. Basically, if the trial doesn’t give the result the corporation is looking for, they make sure that information never sees the light of day. This funding isn’t always obvious, as it doesn’t have to be made in cash. How often is a new wing of a university named after a major corporation or billionaire because they paid for it?
All this corruption has resulted in the birth of a morally bankrupt new industry: fake academic journals. Some clever “businessmen” saw the potential to earn lots of money by exploiting researchers’ need to publish as many papers as they can. So they created journals that will publish almost anything for a fee.
These fake journals look like peer reviewed academic publications, but they are most certainly not. Researchers simply pay the fee and their work is published. Computer scientists David Mazieres and Eddie Kohler created a paper that just repeats the same ten words (one of which is an expletive) to send as a response to unwanted emails from journals. They were shocked when one of the journals responded with an email accepting the paper and calling the paper “excellent.” The journal even offered to publish it for $150!
Given all this corruption and bought science, we can’t always believe what science tells us. Fortunately, there are efforts being made to remedy the situation by organizations such as The World Health Organization and The Center for Accountability in Science. Maybe we can even look forward to a future where we can be certain science really is science.