Feynman on Research Reporting

Richard Feynman, in “Cargo Cult Science,” talks of an “utter honesty” required in science (my bold):

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

Why is not this same “utter honesty” practiced by officials who promote scientific research at universities? In the absence of such honesty, states should be auditing university officials’ claims for truth content, and for what has been selectively withheld, or conveniently neglected. If the theory is that more federal and state funding of continually expanding university research creates economic prosperity, then let’s see the whole data set for the past 35 years.

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