13 Feb 2010

Fraud as Adaptation

Posted by jofr

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.
-Blaise Pascal

A recent article in “The Economist” named Fraud in science confirms that fraud and fabricated results are not rare in science. Only in rare cases the public becomes aware of it, when the claims become too spectacular. Scientists are not quite as honest as might be hoped. Scientists are just as human as everyone else. But it science, it is a problem to be human: it is a severe sin to lie or to fabricate data in science, because it steers people down path that do not lead anywhere.

There is a certain kind of scientist who is a master when it comes to fraud and imposture. He creates confusion instead of understanding. He is someone who invents problems instead of solutions, who conceals the truth instead of revealing it, who complicates things instead of simplifying them. His vague papers are full of complicated words or equations, although he has found out nothing. You might call him cheater, impostor, bluffer, or swindler (in German “Schwindler”).

Some scientists explain the most complicated things in very simple words. Other scientists explain the most simple things in very complicated words. At the end of this scale, you can find the extremes: the genius and the impostor. The genius explains everything with nearly nothing, the impostor explains nothing by making everything unclear.

The scientific impostor acts like a magician. He confuses the audience. He pretends to be able to do something, and he hides perfectly that he is not able to do it. He works with illusions. He creates a kind of “reality distortion field”. There is only one science where it is legitimate to distort reality: Marketing. Marketing is an exception. Here you have to distort reality to convince customers to buy a product. In all other sciences, scientists learn to tell the truth. They should support understanding, not impede it.

Scientific impostors hide themselves behind complicated

  • word-monsters in Sociology and Philosophy
  • formulas and equations in Physics and Mathematics
  • frameworks and formalisms in Computer science and Engineering

All they really do is inventing acronyms and buzzwords. This is where they good at. They are acronym finders and buzzword specialists. They know when and where you have to use what buzzword to achieve a maximal effect. They know what kind of buzzwords are out of date. They know how to produce something which looks real, although it is unreal and fabricated. They are good in bluffing, in acting, and in pretending.

There are many impostors and air merchants at the universities. In German you call them “Schwindler” or “Schaumschl├Ąger”. All they do is producing hot air and inventing new buzzwords. They are a bit like intelligent bots (ELIZA etc.), which never will achieve real intelligence, they only produce a perfect illusion of intelligence. Likewise, Schaumschl├Ąger will never produce any real progress to science, only a perfect illusion of progress. They are good in selling themselves, in getting jobs and grants, and in pretending to be important. Apparently you can not get a grant or a job as a professor if you admit that it is impossible to find out something new. But if you pretend that you can, and if you are good in self-marketing, you might be successful. This is the reason why impostors are very common in areas where it is very hard to find out anything new, for example in theoretical physics or distributed systems (which belong to the most difficult fields in Physics and Computer Science, respectively). In a sense, they are an adaptation to fields where it is nearly impossible to find out new things. Fraud is an adaptation to domains where it is impossible to achieve a goal with honesty and truth. The cheater has it much easier than the honest man to reach an unachievable goal. In general, imposture, fraud and lies are adaptations to situations where honesty and truth will hardly lead to a success.

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2 Responses to “Fraud as Adaptation”

  1. Great post, that is really interesting indeed, I often thought about real and fake artists, which I find to be kind of analogous to scientists, though they some clear differences. I talked about that in parts of my blog, I think you can distinguish people mostly by the integrity, if you look long enough you can see if a person is truly involved and focused in his search by the outcomes it produces.



  2. […] we argued earlier, fraud, cheating and betrayal can be seen as an adapation to certain situations: fraud is an adaptation to domains where it is impossible to achieve a goal with honesty and truth. They happen in science […]


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