publication, Millikan exercised creative insight in excluding unreliable data resulting from experimental error. But such practices, by today 's standards, would not be acceptable without reporting the justification for omission of recorded data.

In the early stages of pioneering studies, particularly when fundamental hypotheses are subject to change, scientists must be free to use creative judgment in deciding which data are truly significant. In such moments, the standards of proof may be quite different from those that apply at stages when confirmation and consensus are sought from peers. Scientists must consistently guard against self-deception, however, particularly when theoretical prejudices tend to overwhelm the skepticism and objectivity basic to experimental practices.

In discussing “the theory-ladenness of observations,” Sapp (1990) observed the fundamental paradox that can exist in determining the “appropriateness” of data selection in certain experiments done in the past: scientists often craft their experiments so that the scientific problems and research subjects conform closely with the theory that they expect to verify or refute. Thus, in some cases, their observations may come closer to theoretical expectations than what might be statistically proper.

This source of bias may be acceptable when it is influenced by scientific insight and judgment. But political, financial, or other sources of bias can corrupt the process of data selection. In situations where both kinds of influence exist, it is particularly important for scientists to be forthcoming about possible sources of bias in the interpretation of research results. The coupling of science to other social purposes in fostering economic growth and commercial technology requires renewed vigilance to maintain acceptable standards for disclosure and control of financial or competitive conflicts of interest and bias in the research environment. The failure to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate sources of bias in research practices can lead to erosion of public trust in the autonomy of the research enterprise.


In reviewing modern research practices for a range of disciplines, and analyzing factors that could affect the integrity of the research process, the panel focused on the following four areas:

  1. Data handling—acquisition, management, and storage;

  2. Communication and publication;

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement