Data-Driven History of Science
May 24, 2017
Publication of Findings Leads to Increased Trust and Rational Decision-Making
Scientists have a responsibility to share the implications of their works because an informed and engaged community ultimately leads to sound public decision-making and increases the overall trust in science. If proper publication of all the details of an experiment are not made known to the public many repercussions will result. Withholding information on the findings of a study will not only cause the public to question the credibility of experts and their faith in science, but will also cause them to make irrational judgement calls. In addition, if the public is connected to the research, either as a test subject or a tax-paying individual funding the project, they should be fully informed on the details of a research.
A scientist must fully publish and inform the public on his or her findings of their conducted experiment in order for them to respond rationally. If the public is not well informed on the details of an experiment, it will cause unnecessary backlash. An example of this would be the Andrew Wakefield study. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a case series in the Lancet, which suggested that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may lead to a developmental disorder in children (The MMR vaccine and autism). In his paper, Wakefield made the claim that giving vaccinations to a child could likely cause the child to develop autism. Wakefield, however, did not inform the public on the many confounding variables in his conducted experiment. He failed to mention his sample size of the study, a total of 12 children, which is an extremely small sample size to derive as large of a claim ad he did from. Not only this, but his design was uncontrolled and his conclusions were quite speculative, for both the development of autism and the receiving of one’s first vaccinations do happen at around the same age (Lecture April 26). Because of the lack of information given about the details of the experiment, there was great backlash from the publication of this article in the Lancet. The general public immediately began to question vaccinations and feared that having their child vaccinated would cause them to develop autism. This ultimately lead to irrational public decision making as parents began to no longer vaccinate their child, thus increasing their risk of contracting serious diseases.
In addition to irrational decision-making, not fully informing the public on the details of an experiment, especially if they are a part of the experiment, causes severe damage of the public’s trust in science and experts. In addition to the many scientific violations, Andrew Wakefield was also found guilty of ethical violations because “[he] had conducted invasive investigations on the children without obtaining the necessary ethical clearances” (The MMR vaccine and autism)....