An Egyptian scientist won a satirical “Ig Nobel Prize” from Harvard University Thursday for putting pants on rats to study their sex lives.
Ahmed Shafik, a professor at Cairo University in Egypt, dressed rodents in polyester, cotton, and wool pants to see their effect on rat sex drive. Shafik found rats that wore polyester or polyester-blend pants displayed less sexual activity, which he speculated was due to electrostatic charges created by polyester.
Shafik suggested that his results could be applied to humans. Harvard officials thought it was hilarious.
Harvard honored the scientist’s ridiculous research with a cash prize of 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, which equates to about four U.S. cents.
Other winners of the “Ig Nobel Prize” include a fellow at the University of Oxford who spent months literally living like an animal, then wrote a book called “Being a Beast” about his experiences.
There are enormous financial incentives for scientists to engage in dubious laboratory research. Academics are under serious financial pressure to rapidly and continually publish research to sustain or further their careers, even if the research is essenitally useless.
Additionally, scientists also have a huge incentive to tweak sloppy, or outright fake statistical analyses to make results seem significant. A growing number of scientists and major scientific journals like Nature have noticed the wave of retractions, especially among Chinese scientists. Polling indicates that such consequences are causing science itself to become less trusted.
Social sciences appear to be especially affected by dubious practices. Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration attempted to replicate 100 published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field, 65 percent of these experiments that showed positive results could not be replicated.
In addition to outright fraud, researchers often don’t even bother to write up negative results, as they aren’t the kind of groundbreaking research upon which scientific prizes, grant money, and tenure decisions are awarded.
Even if the research was written up, scientific journals tend to only publish the flashiest and most popular research. Researchers also have a documented tendency to find evidence of phenomenons they happen to believe in and to reject observations that are unpopular. In a survey of two thousand research psychologists conducted in 2011, over half admitted they selectively reported experiments, which gave the result they were after.
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