Questionable, Objectionable or Criminal? Public Opinion on Data Fraud and Selective Reporting in Science
Science and Engineering Ethics, Forthcoming
36 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2016 Last revised: 10 Mar 2017
Date Written: July 9, 2016
Data fraud and selective reporting both present serious threats to the credibility of science. However, there remains considerable disagreement among scientists about how best to sanction data fraud, and about the ethicality of selective reporting. The public is arguably the largest stakeholder in the reproducibility of science; research is primarily paid for with public funds, and flawed science threatens the public’s welfare. Members of the public are able to make rapid but meaningful judgments about the morality of different behaviors using moral intuitions. Legal scholars emphasize that to maintain legitimacy, social control policies must be developed with consideration given to the public’s moral intuitions. We conducted two studies — a survey experiment with a nationwide convenience sample (N = 821), and a follow-up survey with a representative sample of US adults (N = 964) — to explore public judgments about the morality of data fraud and selective reporting in science. The findings show that the public overwhelming judges both data fraud and selective reporting as morally wrong, and supports a range of serious sanctions for these behaviors. Most notably, the vast majority of Americans support criminalizing data fraud, and many also believe the offense deserves a sentence of incarceration.
Keywords: Scientific fraud, misconduct, questionable research practices, researcher degrees of freedom; false positives
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation