Science is a Harsh Schoolmistress

ABC News: Scientist says tried to clone mammoth

The news story relates the aftermath of the Hwang Woo-suk case, as South Korea tries to figure out what Hwang did with all the money, given that the research on stem cells wasn’t actually on the up-and-up. The article relates several fairly astonishing admissions from Hwang, including the one that got the headlines: they tried to clone mammoths from DNA and failed. Less headline-ready, for being more plebian, were the expenditures on travel and even a wedding for one of the scientists.

If anyone was thinking that Hwang was going to shrug off this affair and step back into a trusted position in the scientific community, the first sentence of the article would disabuse them:

Disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk said on Tuesday he spent part of private donations for his research in failed attempts to clone mammoths, extinct members of the elephant family.

The practice of science relies upon scientists accurately reporting their work. Because of this, fraud in science can be overlooked for some time, but if and when it is noticed, the result is pretty much what is known as shunning in the Amish community. The persons found to have broken that trust are not accorded trust again. There simply isn’t any mechanism there for forgiveness or second chances.

It seems pretty harsh. It is pretty harsh, when you consider that we’re usually talking about people with terminal degrees in a field, and that they will find it difficult to translate what they do know into a career without the ability to fully interact with the scientific community.

Contrast that with the antievolution community. Pretty much no matter how wrong or how embarrassing a behavior some advocate is caught in, you’ll find that there is no penalty imposed by his colleagues. It doesn’t even rise to the level of forgiveness; it’s more like some perpetual perceptual defect where error is never recognized and rarely corrected.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “Science is a Harsh Schoolmistress

  • 2006/07/31 at 12:41 pm

    On the other hand, the anti-evolution community is small and poorly funded (no goverment grants or multibillion dollar endowed universities supporting it), and membership in it may terminate ones’ scientific career. Also all its members have been thoroughly demonized as idiot troglodites (including those with only mild criticisms of the evolution paradigm).

    Those that are in this community know that they are already demonized to the max. They have nothing to loose by congregating with less than stellar characters. The small ragged alliance of evolution unbelievers, it cannot and would not turn away anyone sympathetic to the cause.

  • 2006/07/31 at 10:15 pm

    The anti-evolution community is anything *but* poorly funded. Go to Guidestar and download the IRS Form 990s for the various antievolution organizations (AIG, ICR, DI, etc.), and you’ll find organizations with multimillion-dollar operating budgets. Did they lie to the IRS about the money that they pull in?

    As for terminating ones scientific career, that is the point of the post here. If you do something that indicates a compromise of integrity, the scientific community’s response is a lock-out. Antievolution here in the USA has, since 1968 or so, required that anyone advocating the insertion of religiously-motivated antievolution into public school education lie about what they are doing.

    Which brings us to a comparison: on the one hand, the small band of deceived or deceiving folks pushing religiously-motivated antievolution, and on the other, trenchant critics of various parts of evolutionary biology. Lynn Margulis has had some pretty harsh words for evolutionary biology as it is commonly cast as competitive, for example. Her fate? Elected to the National Academy of Sciences and serving as president of Sigma Xi. It isn’t criticism of evolutionary biology that is the critical factor.

    “The small ragged alliance of evolution unbelievers, it cannot and would not turn away anyone sympathetic to the cause.”

    Yeah. That is a problem for the scientific credibility of people in the antievolution community.

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