The Evolution of Integrity

first_imgScientists are having to deal with a crisis that overlaps with theology: integrity.  What is integrity?  Where did it come from?  How could it evolve?  How is it to be measured?  Questions like these are usually not answered with ammeters and test tubes, but they must be faced.  A crisis of integrity in scientific research is casting serious doubt on the future of science.  In addition, the attempts by scientists to explain spiritual, moral and intellectual matters raises further questions about the limits of science.  This week, Nature had a lot to say about the nature of integrity.Culture of corruption:  Did you know the Department of Health and Human Services has an Office of Research Integrity?  Its health science administrator, Sandra Titus, along with Xavier Bosch of the University of Barcelona, laid out the problem of research integrity in an opinion piece in Nature:1 Despite attention to research misconduct and other issues of research integrity, efforts to promote responsible behaviour remain ineffective.  Misconduct continues, and evidence suggests that increasingly stressful competition for funds and the rush to publish may further erode ethical behaviour.  We believe that real change requires a fundamental shift: to be taken seriously, standards of ethical conduct must be linked to funding.    Improvement is badly needed…. On the basis of six pooled studies, up to 34% of scientists admitted to one or more questionable research practices such as inappropriate analysis, over-interpretation of findings and changing study design.”In addition, few scientists are willing to report misconduct by peers.  Titus and Bosch noted that a whole generation of cheaters is coming up through student ranks, used to the cut-and-paste world of messaging, unable to make independent decisions, woefully untaught about integrity issues, comfortable with sharing everything through electronic social networks.  Smuggling answers to tests is a cinch with hand-held devices.  “Undergraduate cheating is pervasive, with students adopting the behaviour of their peers,” they said.  Their behavior “suggests that this generation may cheat throughout their lives, whether they are scientists, builders or bankers.”Peer pressure:  In the same issue of Nature,2  Gerald P. Koocher and Patricia Keith-Spiegel put positive peer pressure to the test.  They studied reactions of scientists who intervened when they saw unethical practices by peers.  Results were mixed.  “As for the interveners themselves, their chances of a good or bad outcome were about 50/50, ranging from increased respect to a loss of perceived career prospects.”  Yet not intervening sometimes left emotional scars that lasted for years.  Understandably, those in junior positions were found to be less likely to report infractions by their superiors.    The I-word integrity was prominent in their last paragraph:Maintaining scientific integrity by helping to ensure an accurate research record is an obligation shared by all researchers.  If colleagues who are in a position to take action fail to act, poor behaviour might remain uncorrected and could well spread or be repeated.  Our survey highlights that researchers have a commitment to research integrity, and that many are acting on their beliefs by gently attempting to correct bad science.  Such willingness needs to be encouraged and strengthened.The authors encouraged ways of promoting a culture that welcomes correction and values integrity.  Getting that requires another character quality highlighted by a subsection heading: “The courage to act.”Doubt and influence:  It would seem that the scientific journals have an obligation to create that culture of integrity.  Nature let readers in on a dispute between integrity and influence.  Oreskes and Conway authored a book called Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury, 2010).  Brian Wynne reviewed the book favorably in this week’s issue of Nature,3 concerned more for how scientists position themselves in the media than for matters of integrity and truth:The doubters’ success lies in the way that policy questions are framed, with science placed at the centre.  If a policy commitment is reduced only to a question of whether the science is right or wrong, then evidence can easily be made to unravel.  Paradoxically, this happens when science attains its greatest political influence, when it goes beyond supplying the facts to defining the public meaning of problems.  Public-policy issues always have dimensions beyond science, and require more than technical responses.  When framing debates, policy-makers should prioritize discussion of social benefits as well as science: there are many good non-scientific reasons to reduce global environmental footprints and consumption frenzy, and to pursue greater justice, for instance.  If the many factors that go into a policy commitment are recognized, science does not become the sole centre of authority and the sole target for opposition.Three scientists wrote a letter to Nature complaining about Oreskes and Conway’s criticisms of William Nierenberg, a nuclear physicist who led the Scripps Institute, who died in 2000, whom the authors in the June 10 issue had lumped in with the “merchants of doubt” about climate science, a group of “doubt-mongers” who need to be defeated by the scientific community.4  On the contrary, Nicholas Nierenberg with Walter and Victoria Tschinkel said; William was an “independent thinker who was always willing to say what he thought, regardless of what was popular or expected.  He knew that building public support for science begins with a constant regard for the truth.”5  Those attributes appear to be essential in any definition of integrity.One lesson the promoters of “framing” science for the public seem to underestimate is the doubt their own claims engender.  Consider some recent claims made in the science press:Bellyflop:  An article on BBC News claimed that watching frogs bellyflop “shows how frogs evolved.”Pet Darwin:  According to PhysOrg Pat Shipman of Penn State has a “New hypothesis for human evolution and human nature.”  Our love for pets led him to propose that “the interdependency of ancestral humans with other animal species… played a crucial and beneficial role in human evolution over the last 2.6 million years.”This is your brain on cooking:  New Scientist printed again the idea that humans owe their big brains to the invention of cooking (06/17/2009).  Chew on this sentence for evidence: “Now the proponents of the cooked-food hypothesis are presenting fresh evidence in support of the idea – and it all comes down to how you chew.”In the dark:  New Scientist gleefully reported the idea that every black hole may harbor another universe.  In fact, “We could be living inside a black hole ourselves,” a singular idea.War strategy:  Again at New Scientist, Metin Bosuglu claimed to give scientific authority to the view that “You can’t fight violence with violence.”Abortion:  An article on PhysOrg announced, “New Zealand women suffer long delays for abortions.”  The article went on to give this advice: “efforts need to be made by clinics and referring doctors to reduce the waiting times.”  Should a science news site be giving that kind of advice?  Those who consider abortion immoral might wish to increase the waiting times indefinitely. Scientific atheism:  Michael Murray, Jeffrey Schloss and John C. Avise continued their anti-Christian letter writing in PNAS this month, arguing basically that God wouldn’t have created a world like ours, and therefore intelligent design theory is wrong.6 Most people thought science deals with chemistry, physics and biology.  When scientists speak far beyond the data, making outlandish claims on matters no one can know using the methods of science, that behavior is perceived as arrogance.  Arrogance creates doubt – especially when it seems to support political ideologies at variance with the beliefs of many (cf. article by Patrick J. Michaels about Climategate on the Wall Street Journal).  A mark of integrity is knowing one’s limitations.1.  Sandra Titus and Xavier Bosch, “Tie funding to research integrity,” Nature 466, pp 436�437, 22 July 2010, doi:10.1038/466436a.2.  Gerald P. Koocher and Patricia Keith-Spiegel, “Peers nip misconduct in the bud,” Nature 466, pp 438�440, 22 July 2010, doi:10.1038/466438a.3.  Brian Wynne, “When doubt becomes a weapon,” Nature 466, pp 441�442, 22 July 2010, doi:10.1038/466441a.4.  Oreskes and Conway, “Defeating the merchants of doubt,” Nature 465, pp 686�687, 10 June 2010, doi:10.1038/465686a.5.  Nierenberg, Tschinkel and Tschinkel, Letters: “An independent thinker, willing to say what he thought,” Nature 466, page 435, 22 July 2010, doi:10.1038/466435c.6.  Michael J. Murray and Jeffrey B. Schloss, “Evolution, design, and genomic suboptimality: Does science ‘save theology’?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 19, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1007401107; reply by John C. Avise, “Designer genes?”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences July 19, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008658107.Combine the two parts of the entry for a perspective on 21st century institutional science.  On the one hand, they cannot claim any more integrity than politicians.  On the other, they speak beyond their knowledge.  It’s no wonder if the public comes to doubt scientists’ word on things.  They see the same disconnect between the ideals and practices of institutional science as they see between the Constitution and the actual behavior of presidents and Congresspeople.    They need integrity, but how are they going to get it?  Did it evolve from ape grunts?  Did it emerge from particles?  The only position that can make any sense of integrity is the Judeo-Christian world view that teaches a God of truth who made all things.  To get integrity, therefore, scientists need to reach back to the roots of science – its Christian roots – where science was the endeavor of thinking God’s thoughts after Him, and obeying the Genesis Mandate to subdue (care for, conserve, act as a responsible steward of) creation.  Without that anchor, there will be no tether for integrity.  Integrity exists to what damaged extent it does, only because the innate image of God in humanity, combined with some cultural pressure, keeps a check on the worst violations of integrity.    Philosopher Steve Fuller, who is not a Christian, argued the same in his book The Art of Living: appealing to the example of Newton and other early Christian scientists, Fuller asserted that religious belief is a good motivation for science, while atheism has done science little good.  Fuller promoted the idea in the book that we need a “Protscience” like a Protestant Reformation to unseat the “imperious priesthood of the scientific establishment.”  Nathan Schneider attacked Fuller’s thesis in an article this week at Religion Dispatches, pointing to all the atheists and non-Christians that have done good scientific work.  At the end of his diatribe against Fuller’s thesis, he made the absurd claim that Sci-Fi or the New Age might motivate scientists just as well or better than belief in God.  However much religion might have motivated Newton or Priestly or other early practitioners, he said, religion these days has nothing to offer science.  “Science, by now, can fend for itself.”[Exercise: Stop here and turn your Baloney Detector on Schneider’s claims.]    Schneider missed the whole point.  Fuller wasn’t talking about individual scientists; he was talking about science itself.  Of course atheists, New Agers and Sci-Fi devotees can do good science these days (whatever we might mean by the slippery word science).  But they cannot justify their science without belief in God.  It’s like Christian philosopher Greg Bahnsen responded when atheist Gordon Stein countered his argument that an atheist can’t even balance his checkbook without assuming Christianity.  Stein, completely misunderstanding his point, said, “But they do balance their checkbooks – every day!”  Bahnsen responded with a statement by Cornelius Van Til, who said that atheists can count, but they cannot account for counting.  That’s essentially the point Fuller, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis and many others have noted.  Christianity contains the rationale for counting, mathematics, reason, and everything else required for doing science – including integrity.    Science cannot work without integrity.  Integrity must be woven into the warp and woof of science.  A scientist must believe truth exists.  He (or she) must assume he has the ability to acquire truth about nature.  He must approach nature honestly.  He must communicate with peers honestly.  He must publish honestly.  He must be willing to take admonition, and change his position if the evidence demands it.  At each and every step, integrity is as vital to science as blood to the body.  Science breaks down completely if its participants cannot be trusted.  The only real science is an honest scientist, speaking, writing, researching, interacting with nature and one’s peers ethically as if truth matters (cf. the 08/02/2008, 03/12/2009, 11/26/2009, and 05/28/2010 entries).    If integrity evolved, it can evolve into something else.  But that’s a self-contradiction.  Integrity that evolves is not integrity.  Integrity is rooted in the nature of God, who is immutable.[Exercise:  List other Judeo-Christian moral values that are essential for doing science.](Visited 25 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img

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