Somebody listened to me!

December 3, 2012

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Several months ago, I wrote:

One challenge, though, is that uncovering the problem [of scientific fraud] and forcing the retraction is a near-thankless job. That’s one reason I don’t mind if Uri Simonsohn is treated as some sort of hero or superstar for uncovering multiple cases of research fraud. Some people might feel there’s something unseemly about Simonsohn doing this . . .

OK, fine, but let’s talk incentives. If retractions are a good thing, and fraudsters and plagiarists are not generally going to retract on their own, then somebody’s going to have to do the hard work of discovering, exposing, and confronting scholarly misconduct. If these discoverers, exposers, and confronters are going to be attacked back by their targets (which would be natural enough) and they’re going to be attacked by the fraudsters’ friends and colleagues (also natural) and even have their work disparaged by outsiders who think they’re going too far, then, hey, they need some incentives in the other direction. So, yes, I think it’s fair enough for the Uri Simonsohns of the world to get a little fame and fortune in return for their admirable efforts.

And here it is . . . in the Atlantic Monthly, an excellent brief article on Simonsohn, written by science journalist Christopher Shea. A few more articles like this might motivate more scientists to look into fraud more seriously, and it might scare a few potential fraudsters into staying legit. This is something that my Columbia sociology colleague Sudhir Venkatesh might appreciate, given how he [Sudhir] “repeatedly pointed out lax procedures that had long been the rule [at Columbia] and . . . called for a thorough review of all procedures on several occasions, in part because [he] was worried about the risks the University faced.” Change the incentives, change the behavior.

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