Lots of scientists say science is self-correcting. In a way this is surely true: a non-scientist wouldn’t understand the issues. If anyone corrects scientific fraud, it will be a scientist. In another way, this is preventive stupidity: it reassures and reduces the intelligence of those who say it, helping them ignore the fact that they have no idea how much fraud goes undetected. If only 1% of fraud is corrected, it is misleading to say science is self-correcting. A realistic view of scientific self-correction is that there is no reward for discovering fraud and plenty of grief involved: the possibility of retaliation, the loss of time (it won’t help you get another grant), and the dislike of bearing bad news. So whenever fraud is uncovered it’s a bit surprising and bears examination.
What I notice is that science is often corrected by insider/outsiders — people with enough (insider) knowledge and (outsider) freedom to correct things.Â As I’ve said before, Saul Sternberg and I were free to severely criticize Ranjit Chandra. Because we were psychologists and he was a nutritionist, he couldn’t retaliate against us. Leon Kamin, an outsider to personality psychology, was free to point out that Cyril Burt faked data. (To his credit, Arthur Jensen, an insider, also pointed in this direction, although not as clearly.) The Marc Hauser case provides another example: Undergraduates in Hauser’s lab uncovered the deception. They knew a lot about the research yet had nothing invested in it and little to lose from loss of Hauser’s support. This is another reason insider/outsiders are important.