Science depends on its practitioners behaving ethically. This is important for three reasons. One is because scientists depend upon each other’s work and fraud in one area can really mess up the work of those who use those results. Another is because science has acquired a hard-won credibility with the public that has to be preserved so that those who deny the scientific consensus on important questions like climate change and vaccinations are not given ammunition to claim that science cannot be trusted. And the third is because much of science depends on public funding and that can be threatened by misconduct.
One way to maintain the integrity of science is by vigorous self-policing and exposing misconduct as soon as it is discovered. The website Retraction Watch has published an article which reports that there appears to be an investigation of a prominent researcher whose lab had claimed to have produced some dramatic results in the area of stem-cell research.
I think that most scientists, perhaps with the exception of the most lucky or most dishonest, have personal experience with failure in science—experiments that are unreproducible, hypotheses that are fundamentally incorrect. Generally, we sigh, we alter hypotheses, we develop new methods, we move on. It is the data that should guide the science.
In the Anversa group, a model with much less intellectual flexibility was applied. The “Hypothesis” was that c-kit (cd117) positive cells in the heart (or bone marrow if you read their earlier studies) were cardiac progenitors that could: 1) repair a scarred heart post-myocardial infarction, and: 2) supply the cells necessary for cardiomyocyte turnover in the normal heart.
In theory, this hypothesis would be elegant in its simplicity and amenable to testing in current model systems. In practice, all data that did not point to the “truth” of the hypothesis were considered wrong, and experiments which would definitively show if this hypothesis was incorrect were never performed (lineage tracing e.g.).
Further, controls that suggested that the data might be artifactual were ignored or not conducted.
As is often the case, the problems began to be revealed when others could not replicate the results, which shows how important replication is. And the principal investigator is described as an autocratic personality who brooked no criticism of his ideas either within his group or from outsiders. The atmosphere the author describes is chilling and totally antithetical to the kind of climate that a good research program should foster.