False Science

by Owen D. Olbrich

Paul wrote a warning to Timothy, "Oh Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20 KJV). The word "science" in other versions is translated "knowledge" from the Greek gnosis. The word "science" comes from the Latin scientia meaning knowledge. Paul evidently is warning Timothy against any so called knowledge whether religious or secular that would turn Christians from the faith. That warning is needed as much today as it was when Paul wrote to Timothy.

Scientific Fraud

In the Science Horizon Year Book, 1993, Lawrence T. Lorimer, editor (Collier: New York), pages 263-267, appeared an article, Scientific Fraud, written by Linda Marsa in which she presented various accounts of fraud in the scientific community.

The first case she discussed involved Robert Gallo whom she stated was "one of the most powerful and protected super stars at the National Institutes of Health" (p. 263). Without giving credit to Luc Montagnier, a virologist of Paris' Pasteur Institute, Gallo sought credit for the first isolated AIDS virus. When the truth surfaced, it was revealed that Gallo had used a genetic twin of a virus sent to him by Montagnier.

"The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), criticized Gallo for his failure to acknowledge having grown and studied an AIDS virus sent to him by the French. Gallo is also the target of a federal inquiry investigating charges of perjury and patent fraud related to his patent application for the AIDS test" (p. 263).

Marsa commented concerning scandals in the scientific community in the United States: "Incidents of simply sloppy science, misconduct, plagiarism, manipulation or faking of data, and outright criminal behavior have made front-page news with alarming regularity" (p. 264).

"Out of about 18,000 grants the NSF (National Science Foundation) made in 1991, only 52 cases of misconduct were reported to the agency...But scientists themselves report the actual incidence of misconduct is much higher. In a November 1991 survey of 1,500 scientists conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), more than a quarter of respondents said they had witnessed faking, falsifying, or outright theft of research in the past decade" (p. 265).

The driving force behind much of the deception and wrong-doing is pressure to produce results in order to receive or retain grants. Scientific research costs big money. Competition is fierce for what financial backing is available. For this reason scientists are under pressure to show progress that will justify financial support. Marsa wrote, "But the pressures to hit a home run each time tempt scientists to cut corners, to round off numbers so that results appear more impressive, to overlook anomalous findings that would put the data in a less favorable light--or to just cheat" (p. 267).

Glaring cases of fraud or just sloppy science have appeared. Two chemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah, announced in March of 1989 that they had successfully produced cold fusion in a test tube. Efforts by scientists to replicate cold fusion failed.

Stephen Breuning falsified data from experiments conducted from 1980 to 1983 that showed Ritalin helped calm uncontrolled wild behavior in severely retarded children. When confronted with his deception Breuning then confessed having written reports that contained false statements.

David Baltimore and Thereze Imanishi-Karl published a paper that "purported to show that antibodies expressed in one mouse could be made to mimic those of another mouse" (p. 268). This was later shown to be untrue by Dr. Margot O'Toole who after considering their notes noticed serious discrepancies.

Less Recent Fraud

Scientific fraud is nothing new. Marsa reported scientific dishonesty of the more distant past. The Piltdown Man, unearthed in an English gravel pit on Piltdown Common in 1908, was exposed to be an ape jaw attached to part of a human skull that was stained to appear old. This was hailed as the missing link between apes and humans until it was exposed in the 1950s as a fraud.

In 1865 Abbe Gregor Mendelian, considered the father of genetics, furnished data from experiments in genetics that were later proven to be falsified.

"Isaac Newton (1642-1727) crunched numbers to make the predictive power of his universal gravitational theory carry more weight. Scientists have since noted he ‘adjusted' his calculations on the velocity of sound and on the processions of the equinoxes so that they would support his theory" (p. 267).

Joahannes Kepler (1571-1630), renowned in astronomy, doctored his calculations to substantiate his theory concerning the elliptical movement of planets.

Even the famed Galileo Galilei, who is accepted as the father of the modern scientific method, wrote about experiments that were so difficult to reproduce many question his ever carrying out such experiments.

Conclusion

False knowledge can be found among religious leaders and teachers, but this is not the only place where truth may suffer. Not all religions or scientific work is faulted, but truth is sometimes covered up in order to substantiate desired conclusions. Many such deceptions in the scientific world may have no implications concerning the truth contained in the faith accepted by Christians and may be of little concern to them.

On the other hand, the child of God can be deceived by false knowledge that contradicts his faith. He does not need to be, for the word of God contains the truth (John 17:17) which through the light it brings (2 Corinthians 4:6) and the power it provides (Hebrews 4:12) can expose (1 John 4:6) error and provide weapons to pull down strong holds and to cast down everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5). Christians should not let so called science that seems to contradict God's teaching disturb their hearts. Such could be the fraudulent work of unethical men. The solid rock of God's word has stood unchanged while the works of skeptics and deceptive men of science have come and gone.


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