On Fact and Fraud: Cautionary Tales from the Front Lines of Science

David Goodstein has enjoyed a long and productive career at the California Institute of Technology as a professor of physics and as Vice Provost. He brings to this small book on scientific ethics the perspective of an administrator of scientific research, a viewpoint that I have not seen expressed in any other place. The author approaches the subject largely through seven case studies, with an introductory and a conclusive chapter. Most of them have a Caltech connection, but not always. For example, the Schön case (the subject of my June, 2009 selection, "Plastic Fantastic" was a Bell Labs scandal. Most of the cases are relatively recent ones, but the one that most interested me was Goodstein's defense of Robert Milliken's work on the charge of the electron. He had been accused in a 1982 book "Betrayers of the Truth" by William Broad and Nicholas Wade, and a subsequent influential pamphlet published by Sigma Xi, of distorting his results by omitting some measurements and later lying about it. Goldstein reproduces some of the key pages from Milliken's original laboratory notebook, and he does an excellent job of explaining the experiments. For my taste, Goodstein is too easy on the "cold fusion" crowd, and especially those who are still trying to resuscitate what seems to me to be a deceased equine. Goodstein's main goal is to revive a discussion of what constitutes fraud or misrepresentation in science. While he might somewhat overstate the general applicability of his own criteria, this book is worth reading.

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David Goodstein

Publication Date: 
Friday, January 1, 2010