FOM: scientific wrongdoing

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Thu Feb 11 18:43:15 EST 1999

I call attention to a posting from A.R.D. Mathias:

 > From: Adrian Mathias <amathias at>
 > Subject: FOM: scientific wrongdoing
 > Date: Wed, 9 Dec 1998 16:39:34 -0500 (EST)

The Mathias posting raises a number of interesting issues.  Let me
comment on some of them.


Mathias' remarks tie in with Harvey Friedman's views on the need for
openness in the procedures for granting academic honors and awards. 

[ Harvey, I'm having a little trouble locating those postings of
yours.  Where are they? ]

Let's initiate a discussion of prizes and awards in mathematics and
mathematical logic and the neglect of f.o.m. in that context.


I don't agree with everything Mathias said.

 > A consequence of the greed of scientists for the Prize is the
 > breakdown of the master--apprentice relationship in scientific
 > circles.  This is documented (with other abuses) in [1] and
 > illustrated by Rubbia's dreadful remark, recorded in [4], that "I
 > treat physicists like lemons: I squeeze them dry and throw them
 > away''. 

Adrian, let's carry this argument to its logical conclusion.  You seem
to be against all competition for scientific prizes or distinctions.
Let me try to paraphrase what I think is your argument: "If scientists
strive for recognition and prestige, then they will necessarily pursue
it by exploiting their research assistants unfairly."  Is this what
you want to argue?  If so, why?

As an example, take my own case.  Many people view me as a tireless
and shameless self-promotor, striving to make everyone aware of the
wonder and beauty of reverse mathematics.  Yet, I have supervised a
lot of Ph.D. students <>,
especially in reverse mathematics, and I think it's fair to say that
I'm always happy to give them credit when they earn it.

[ I now ask my former Ph.D. students here on the FOM list to chime in
and confirm what I just said! :-) ]

Of course, I'm not in Rubbia's league.  Maybe part of the reason I'm
not in Rubbia's league is that I'm too nice to my grad students?  Is
that what you are suggesting?  :-)


Turning now to your comments on AIDS, I think we're a little
off-topic, because AIDS is very far from f.o.m.  But your general
point, to the effect that

 > certain scientists are acting from a love not of science nor of
 > humanity but of large research budgets, and are combining
 > manipulation of the data with scare tactics to that end

is certainly valid.

I myself think it's obvious that a great deal of science is
politicized.  For example, Gore may well base his upcoming
presidential campaign on global warming and other environmental
scares.  A few years ago, cyclamate sweeteners were banned in the US
on the basis of politicized experiments where rats got cancer after
being fed the equivalent of something like 10 kilos per day for an
extended period.  Recently and incredibly, a bunch of academics held a
pep rally in defense of Clinton and against impeachment!  See

Tying this in to f.o.m., I would note that even G"odel's
incompleteness theorem is often popularly misused by academics and
others as an argument against reason and science in general, and even
against particular technologies such as nuclear energy and missile
defense.  This kind of blatant misuse of f.o.m. is an issue that I
think would be very appropriate for discussion on the FOM list.

How to combat the politicization of science?  The good guys need to
speak out ....


Let me turn now to peer review, as in NSF grants.

 > "The much praised peer review system is simply a device
 > for allowing an in-group to pass out money to itself."

True, all too true.  We even know some examples of this within the
Foundations program of the Division of Mathematical Sciences of NSF.
However, I have to ask, what system would be better?  After all,
government bureaucrats need some criterion for doling out money.  If
they didn't use peer review, what other system would they use?  I
imagine they could easily come up with something much worse.  

Let's open up this issue for discussion ....


 > For further general argument, the writings of Feyerabend are a
 > delight: 

Yikes!  Feyerabend ?!?!?  Everything I've read of Feyerabend tells me
that he is a rabid postmodernist, a bitter opponent of reason,
science, and Enlightenment values.  Sure, he's funny sometimes, but
really ....


 > few people are suited to a life of specialisation in logic; but
 > many would benefit from knowing more about it.

The classical Aristotelean view is that logic is fundamental to all of
science, including philosophy.  Certainly our culture would benefit
from a revival of this view.

However, this would require a revival of the notion of unified
science, a notion that is now out of favor.  Indeed, when I touted the
unity of human knowledge as an essential component of the
f.o.m. outlook, an eminent logician took me to task for it!  He even
cited a postmodernist tract proving that that the unity of science is
a myth promulgated by plutocrats, warmongers, racists, and male
chauvinist pigs!  To review this transaction, search the FOM archive
<> for `unity of human knowledge'.

Incidents such as this make me question whether now is the time to
promote the study of mathematical logic as an antidote for the general
irrationality of our culture.

 > There is a further reason for promoting the teaching of logic in a
 > broader sense. It is this. One notices that a propensity to
 > intellectual bullying is often accompanied by a hostility to the
 > teaching of logic. The reason is plain: such teaching sharpens the
 > critical faculties and promotes intellectual independence, and it
 > is therefore not surprising that it was illegal for thirty years in
 > the Soviet Union.  Persons in positions of power, within the
 > scientific hierarchy as elsewhere, wish it to be thought that there
 > is only one way to think (that way being, strangely, their own) and
 > therefore that there is no need to have any logic, all thought
 > being pre-ordained.

Hear hear!  Well said!

That's all for now.  Maybe I'll have more comments later.

-- Steve Simpson

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