Let us consider the following case study:

5 Aug 2009 National Post
BY JEN SKERRITT Winnipeg Free Press

Researcher censured for faking study data

WINNIPEG • The University of Manitoba has censured a former researcher after an internal investigation concluded he faked data and made up experiments that led to a seemingly groundbreaking study published in one of the world’s most prestigious science journals.
The news that disgraced University of Manitoba plant science researcher Fawzi Razem committed the biggest sin in science comes eight months after the journal Nature retracted what was once considered a breakthrough study.

Mr. Razem, working in the lab of Professor Robert Hill, claimed to have discovered a receptor for the major hormone linked to a plant’s response to environmental stress. The receptor that has eluded scientists for two decades was identified in an article and featured in the editor’s summary in the January 2006 edition of Nature, one of the world’s most renowned international science journals. Tracking down that hormone receptor would be a major breakthrough for agricultural science, as it could help plants better adapt to cold or drought.

Concerns emerged last summer when a team of researchers from New Zealand couldn’t replicate Mr. Razem’s work — a red flag that there could be serious problems with the original findings.
A December 2008 online edition of Nature said the study made “erroneous conclusions” and there is no evidence to support Mr. Razem’s findings.

The university would not initially confirm if an internal investigation was underway.
That changed on July 30 when the University of Manitoba issued a statement in a newsletter confirming that Mr. Razem had committed fraud.

“Specifically, the committee concluded that certain experiments claimed to have been conducted, in fact, were not, and that results were fabricated,” the bulletin said. “This case is a very rare and isolated incident, and there are already safeguards in place to prevent such occurrences.”
The statement said the university has implemented sanctions against Mr. Razem and that he will “never be recommended for an academic appointment of any kind at the university.”
Mr. Razem resigned when the initial allegations surfaced.

The university determined the allegations warranted an in-depth investigation and struck a committee that consisted of the academic vicepresident and three impartial faculty members. University officials could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

Experts say cases of academic fraud are rare and undermine the pillars of scientific research.
“It’s a crime against other researchers,” said Arthur Schafer, a University of Manitoba ethics professor. “It undermines the researchers at the university and the trust of the public and the integrity of the research.”

Although few cases are so extreme, Mr. Schafer said there is a growing concern in the research community about pressure placed on scientists to “make a name” and win lucrative corporate sponsors. Mr. Schafer said science is one of the few professions where staff have to snag grants to pay for their equipment and assistants, and there is increasing competition for research dollars.

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There are several interesting points to consider here: First, the research has claimed to discover something real about the world. Second, this claim is supposed to be backed up by actual research and evidence. Third, the test of the claim is replicability: Can other researchers get the same results by following the same procedures? Fourth, when the claimed results cannot be replicated, the claims are rejected as false. Fifth, if you make invalid claims, your reputation and standing is lost.

Has any anthropologist every been censured for having cheated? Not that I know of. Anthropologists have been criticized for being naive and wrong, such as Margaret Mead on Samoa by Derek Freeman, Richard Lee on the Kalahari by Ed Wilmsen, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes on Ireland by various Irish scholars. But none have been accused of "faking data," of cheating.

Of course, in the days of Mead, Lee, and early Scheper-Hughes, anthropologists were trying to say something true about the real world, and could be criticized for getting it wrong. But anthropology has gone beyond that naive epistemology, to a post-truth way of "knowing," in which we acknowledge the inevitable subjectivity and the impossibility of anything else, in which each "interpretation" is regarded as valid as any other interpretation (as long as it does not violate "liberal" norms, of course), and in which everyone, anthropologists included, is seen at "telling their stories." We no longer claim to "discover" anything, or to assert anything true about the world, but merely to express our positionality: gender, age, class, and race. So it is impossible to condemn anyone for "cheating" in presenting their findings. That's progress!

But if we cannot say anything about what is true, we do know what is good and bad, which side to choose. So we can condemn fellow anthropologists if they are not sufficiently sensitive, respectful, and correct in their views and Interactions, in short, not for scientific failings, but for moral failings. Thus the "infamous" Napoleon A. Chagnon was condemned by the American Anthropological Association, until it became evident that the grounds of their condemnation were unfounded and that the Association violated its own constitution, and so the condemnation was retracted, leaving the AAA in disgrace, where it belonged.

Given where anthropology is today, what justifications can we find for the hundreds of millions of dollars we ask to support anthropology departments and anthropological research? Can we, in all honesty, ask for allocations of scarce societal resources for the subjective expression and political posturing that seem to be the norm in anthropology today?

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Replies to This Discussion

Phil, I do hope that others will chime in here. It is getting a bit boring to see all these threads in which they name of the last reply is my own. I am beginning to feel that I must be obnoxious or have some loathsome disease. That said, I offer the following, the concluding remarks to a presentation I gave two years ago describing my current research, a combination of social network analysis, desk research and ethnography designed to explore the world of top-rank advertising creators in Tokyo.

>>>

On Anthro-L an argument has once again erupted, pitting those who defend science against postmodern critique against those who embrace that critique. In my case, I believe the critique should be taken seriously — without abandoning the methods that have made science the most powerful knowledge-generating tool in human history. I believe strongly that the proper response to the postmodern critique is to embrace it and think about how to do something approximating science in an intensely personal way. So I try to do research that both (1) systematically collects data and constantly questions hypotheses and (2) shows a proper respect for the individuality of the people who collaborate with me and the circumstances in which our lives intersect.

Thus, for example, in my current project I take advantage of data collected for other purposes that allow me to identify precisely the people with whom a copywriter named Maki Jun worked on winning ads in 2001 and situate them on a map of relationships that tie the top of an industry together. But I don't want to leave Maki as nothing more than a labeled node in a network analysis diagram. I want people to know that, like me, he grew up beside the sea and played the trombone in a high school band. They should also know that he has recently published a book suggesting that advertising copy, with its business suit removed, is a new form in a long tradition of one-line poetry that includes haiku, tanka, and senryu, all traditional forms for which Japanese literature is justly renowned. He is a man addicted, as I am, to wordplay and a genuine master of the art.

Maki’s latest book is prefaced with the line kotoba no happa wa, itsuka ki ni naru mori ni naru (the leaves on words sometimes become a forest), which pivots on his substitution of the Chinese character for "tree" for the usual character for "breath" in the phrase ki ni naru, turning "notice and are concerned about" into "become trees, become a forest" (a more literal way to translate the way the line ends). The whole thing is set off because the ba in kotoba (word) is written with the Chinese character for "leaf." So the whole thing might have been rendered "The leaves in "spoken-leaves" (words) sometimes become trees, become forests." 

Today, I use Maki as an example because I had the privilege of meeting with him a few days ago and am in a glow because he has agreed to lend a hand with my project. But, returning to our starting point, what I love about this research is the way that it uses both the numerate and literate sides of my brain and produces both the elegance of the structural diagrams and insight into the thoughts and lives of some truly extraordinary people. That’s anthropology to me.

>>>

P.S. Maki Jun died three weeks ago, of an unexpected heart attack in a man only sixty. I was only one of the hundreds who attended his memorial. He will long be remembered by those fortunate enough to have known him.
John: It is getting a bit boring to see all these threads in which they name of the last reply is my own. I am beginning to feel that I must be obnoxious or have some loathsome disease.

Jesting aside, John, I join in your plea for replies, comments, discussions, and contributions from many more OAC members. Allow me to say that all OAC members owe you a debt of gratitude for your many thoughtful contributions to numerous discussions on a variety of group sites. You and I do not always agree, but I always appreciate your thoughts and ideas. Many members of OAC are young, intelligent, and enthusiastic, but at beginning stages in anthropology, and trying to find their way. Contributions from experienced anthropologists, such as yourself, are an important asset for OAC.
Philip Carl SALZMAN said:

I know you say this in jest, John, but I join in your plea for replies, comments, discussions, and contributions from many more OAC members.

Not in jest, unfortunately. It creeps me out to have conversations fall off cliffs into silence just when I think they're beginning to be interesting. I fear that my habit of saying too much, too soon is a conversation stopper. So I will stop here and promise to attend carefully to what others have to say.
Quite seriously, John, I think that many members feel that they cannot advance the discussion beyond what you have said.
OR maybe they are a bit lazy because of the summer heat

I want to add a new element concerning the threat about anthropologists cheating:
.
Maybe we have to consider the plagiarism or the copy-paste process of other texts used as original texts for a study or research with not even comments , citations or aknowledgments.
Given where anthropology is today, what justifications can we find for the hundreds of millions of dollars we ask to support anthropology departments and anthropological research? Can we, in all honesty, ask for allocations of scarce societal resources for the subjective expression and political posturing that seem to be the norm in anthropology today?

If economists can peddle fairy tales and throw the world economy into a tailspin, while raking in thousands of billions of dollars ...

No, but seriously, I think the extreme subjectivism of much anthropology is not worth the money allocated to it. But a worse problem is blatantly political anthropology that is financed to promote one goal or another, while claiming neutrality and objectivity (the human terrain project comes to mind).

Hmm ... gosh. It's a tough question. I wouldn't mind some of that money, but in many ways I doubt it could not be better spent, for example on programs promoting ecology, education, democracy ...
Owen asks, Can you reference some of this research you find valueless?

Oh, Owen, where to start? Well, rather than thus throwing out titles of bad anthropology, perhaps I should direct you to some critiques I have published, in which various works, both renown and obscure, are discussed:

P. C. Salzman,
1988 "Fads and Fashions in Anthropology", ANTHROPOLOGY NEWSLETTER 29 (5): 1, 32-33.
1995 Comment on "Understanding Tribes in Iran and Beyond", THE JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 1 (2): 399-403.
2001 UNDERSTANDING CULTURE: AN INTRODUCTION TO ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
2002 “On Reflexivity,” AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 104(3):805-813.
Luca says: "I think the extreme subjectivism of much anthropology is not worth the money allocated to it. But a worse problem is blatantly political anthropology that is financed to promote one goal or another, while claiming neutrality and objectivity (the human terrain project comes to mind)."

I agree that much of anthropology has set aside the attempt to understand the world in favour of advancing political goals. But your example, the human terrain project, is a peculiar one, as it involves mostly non-anthropologist social scientists, and a tiny handfull of anthropologists. The overwhelming majority of anthropologists range from the centre left, to the extreme left, to the fanatical left. Perhaps it is not true that anthropology is the tourist wing of the socialist international. But it is true that anglophone anthropologists were the last people in the world to adopt and believe in marxism. After the fall of the Soviet Union, they morphed into "postcolonialist" anthropologists, and anti-globalization and anti-capitalist advocates. To these movements are added feminist and queer anthropology, which advance identity politics. So, yes, if you believe that anthropology is about advancing ideological principles already established, you will love anthropology today. If you believe that anthropology is about trying to explore, discover, and understand the human world, then anthropology today may not be of much interest.
NIkos writes,

Maybe we have to consider the plagiarism or the copy-paste process of other texts used as original texts for a study or research with not even comments , citations or aknowledgments.

Nikos, I wonder as I read this if you are primarily concerned with the much debated issue of academic plagiarism -- construed as theft of intellectual property from fellow academics -- or the giant elephant in the room, anthropologists' use of native exegesis without attribution -- justified by fears of endangering those whose lives we study?

How would you say that either situation differs from that of the journalist, who identifies clearly those who speak on the record and conceals the names of other sources that need or want the protection of anonymity?
Owen writes,

Honestly, I think the issue is that you don't see any value in subjective expression. I don't understand your arguments about "an inevitable subjectivity" leading to "the impossibility of saying anything at all".

Owen, Phil, is what divides you the result of framing the problem as subjectivity versus objectivity? Why not sloppy and serious, instead?

What, after all, is the epistemological difference between focusing attention on particular human individuals and focusing attention on, for example, a computer screen or an exposed face in the side of a hill? How would you respond if I said that in all these cases the observer works with fragmentary information and constructs a theory whose elements include things whose existence we only infer: largely invisible selves, an operating system, or geological processes that took place some thousands or millions of years ago?
Luka writes,

No, but seriously, I think the extreme subjectivism of much anthropology is not worth the money allocated to it. But a worse problem is blatantly political anthropology that is financed to promote one goal or another, while claiming neutrality and objectivity (the human terrain project comes to mind).

Luka, why is the blatantly political worse than extreme subjectivism? What if I challenge your premise by noting the huge amount of science that gets funded and done for blatantly political reasons.

I think, for example, of the nuclear arms race, whose byproducts include an awful lot of physics; the Apollo project, the International Space Station, the Mars landers, etc., all driven in large part by national interests in controlling the highest ground around; or the Internet, through which we communicate, in part at least a Defense Research Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) effort to create a communication net capable of surviving a nuclear war. The morality involved in all these projects is, of course, debatable. But the science? Awesome. And not the result of inward turning angst.
John points out that many state projects directed by political motivation lead to serious scientific discoveries. But can we say this of anthropology?

It appears to me that in anthropology politics is not a motivation for science, but rather a substitute for scientific research. In anthropology, political ideology supplies the answers that research is directed to substantiate, to illustrate, to reinforce. If you begin (as so many anthropologists, "postcolonial" anthropologists do) with the conclusion that all of the problems in "Third World" countries are caused by Western imperialism, you will "discover" that in the Third World everyone got along with everyone else peaceably, that men and women were equal, that everyone was well fed and happy, and that culture and science progressed, until "the West" arrived and caused war, inequality, and poverty: e.g. the British stole the forests of Baluchistan (and presumably the rainfall as well), invented the caste system, the French introduced conflict to North Africa, the Portuguese introduced conflict to southern Africa, slavery didn't exist until invented by the West, etc. etc. Political ideology in anthropology provides all of the answers; actual research is incidental; discovery is precluded.

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