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Scientific Misconduct: Three Forms that Directly Harm Others as the Modus Operandi of Mill’s Tyranny of the Prevailing Opinion


Scientific misconduct is usually assumed to be self-serving. This paper, however, proposes to distinguish between two types of scientific misconduct: ‘type one scientific misconduct’ is self-serving and leads to falsely positive conclusions about one’s own work, while ‘type two scientific misconduct’ is other-harming and leads to falsely negative conclusions about someone else’s work. The focus is then on the latter type, and three known issues are identified as specific forms of such scientific misconduct: biased quality assessment, smear, and officially condoning scientific misconduct. These concern the improper ways how challenges of the prevailing opinion are thwarted in the modern world. The central issue is pseudoskepticism: uttering negative conclusions about someone else’s work that are downright false. It is argued that this may be an emotional response, rather than a calculated strategic action. Recommendations for educative and punitive measures are given to prevent and to deal with these three forms of scientific misconduct.

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  1. The TU/e thus stood by the conclusions of Van Hee’s quality assessment, even after it had been independently established that this was unsound.

  2. Note that the term ‘pseudoskepticism’ here has the same connotation as the term ‘pseudoscience’.

  3. From a Spinozistic point of view, scholars—not necessarily group members—might also start criticizing the work in the hope of scoring points among group members, which might yield a better perspective for the future.


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The author wishes to thank Aliaksei Sedzin (NXP Semiconductors, Eindhoven, the Netherlands) for bringing the Soviet documentary “Ya i Drugiye" to his attention, and Brian Martin (University of Wollongong, Australia) for his helpful comments. This research has been facilitated by the Foundation Liberalitas (the Netherlands).

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Correspondence to Marcoen J. T. F. Cabbolet.

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Cabbolet, M.J.T.F. Scientific Misconduct: Three Forms that Directly Harm Others as the Modus Operandi of Mill’s Tyranny of the Prevailing Opinion. Sci Eng Ethics 20, 41–54 (2014).

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