New paper says scientists censor research to reduce harm

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A new paper suggests an unexpected source for scientific censorship: scientists themselves.

according to The paperIt was published in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences As part of the “opinion” category, scientists typically censor scientific findings for “prosocial” reasons, such as fear that those findings may have harmful effects, particularly on marginalized groups.

That censorship can take many forms, including repeated rejections of research proposals that examine discrimination against white men compared to other races and genders, and ethics boards calling for the dismissal of professors studying controversial topics. Scientists also censor themselves regularly, the authors write. Twenty-five percent said they were more likely to self-censor their academic writing, citing a study of faculty at four-year institutions.

The paper lists 39 authors, including lead author Corey Clark, director of the Adversarial Cooperation Project at the University of Pennsylvania and a behavioral scientist. It draws on past research on academic censorship, as well as nonprofits like the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expressions that have studied cases where researchers have been targeted for their teaching or scholarship.

Entitled “Prosocial Motives Underlying Scientific Censorship by Scientists: A Perspective and Research Agenda,” the paper highlights the most subtle and sometimes malicious forms of censorship carried out by government bodies and large institutions. The authors note that it is impossible to measure examples of scientific censorship because successfully censored work is never made available to the public. Instead, scientists want to draw attention to the censorship they do to change the system that allows it to go unchecked.

“Most of the stories you hear are from academics who feel their work has been unfairly treated. But you never know why a particular paper was rejected or given an unfair review by scientific journals,” Clark said.

One solution the paper suggests is for journals to publish reviews and editorial decision letters online to be more transparent, with names redacted if necessary.

“Right now, the regulation is just a comprehensive peer review process. [be] Internally with comments and editors on the paper, and then the authors who receive those reviews. Because of this, no single scientist has access to all of this information about how papers are evaluated in the peer-review process, Clark said. I think opening that up provides a lot of valuable information that scholars can analyze to see if there are double standards and how certain papers are treated.

Clark’s interest in the topic—specifically biases affecting scientific decision-making—dates back to 2012.

But in 2020, Clarke herself, along with her team of co-authors on the paper, It was requested and the cancellation was granted Research paper published in Psychological science After receiving negative feedback. The paper, which examined the relationship between religiosity, crime and IQ, argued that there was a negative relationship between religiosity and violent crime, but not in countries with average high IQs – which tended to be predominantly white, according to the data they used. The paper has been criticized for feeding the racist narrative that non-whites have low IQs. However, the authors finally said They retreated. Due to problems with IQ and criminal information.

The importance of transparency

Ivan Oransky, co-founder Return timeA website that tracks academic article retractions praised Clark and her colleagues for suggesting ways to increase transparency in the academic publishing process, including auditing biases in academic journals and disclosing information about retracted articles. Such measures, he hopes, will help the academy gain a better understanding of how often a scholar may be properly censored and submit a paper that is not easily matched.

“In a lot of these discussions, there’s a perception that part of the problem is when you’re dealing with topics that some people are uncomfortable with, and I think sometimes there’s a lack of well-grounded response, any criticism or certainly any. A retreat or a strong condemnation, it’s censorship, really, maybe there are deeper problems with just the paper,” Oransky said.

John Slattery, director of Duquesne University’s Greffenstedt Center for Ethics in Science, Technology and Law, applauded the journal’s proposals for improved transparency, but questioned whether journals have the funds necessary to rework their entire editorial process.

“I think the overall paper is a very impressive addition to the body of scholarly research on censorship in general. He gives a lot of practical advice; [but] “I don’t know how well they will be received in general,” he said. “It’s the same with the discussion and research practices around open science… It’s going to require a lot of structural changes on the back end of how a journal works on a day-to-day basis.”

They also questioned another of the paper’s recommendations, which calls for the scientific community to do more research on how harmful research papers can be.

“While concerns about potential future harms are a common justification for scientific censorship, few studies have examined the validity of harm concerns,” the paper said. “How likely, extensive, and inevitable is the damage? Do experts agree on the probability and size? Do scholars from different identity or ideological groups have different estimates of harm? Some evidence suggests that study outcomes have been systematically underestimated and ancillary outcomes have been systematically underestimated.

But that line of inquiry ignores many notable historical examples of popular science journals promoting and promoting dangerous ideas like eugenics over the past century and a half.

While he doesn’t oppose more research into how scholarships can cause harm, he says the negative impact such scholarships have on people with disabilities, Native Americans, and black and brown communities is clear.

“Thousands and thousands of examples of scientific articles published in good scientific journals lead to real practical harm,” he said. “It’s never a bad thing to say, ‘Let’s try to point out the harms that happen to different communities.'”

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