6 Memes that Sum up the Recent Drama in the World of Science

From fake data to toxic lab cultures and an infamous letter denouncing a renowned scientific hypothesis as “pseudoscience,” the world of psychology and neuroscience has recently been engulfed in a whirlwind of controversy. In this blog post, I present six memes that perfectly capture the drama that has unfolded in these fields. Get ready to discover the scandalous, shocking, and downright outrageous stories that have rocked the scientific community.

1. Francesca Gino Get Caught Faking Data by DataColada

In June 2023, a group of scientific detectives named DataColada posted a 4-part blog post called Data Falsificada. The author at the center of their current investigation was Harvard Business School (HBS) professor Francesca Gino. Francesca Gino was, at the time, a prominent psychologist and behavioral scientist. So, this expose came as a big shock to the academic community.

Using ingenious methods like examining the order Excel formulas, the DataColada team presented pretty daming evidence of data fraud for at least four previously published papers. Consequently, the studies were retracted, and Gino was put on administrative leave by HBS.

In addition to shedding light on Gino’s actions, this case has sparked discussions about the pressure to publish in academia. It revealed the lengths researchers from all backgrounds would go to survive in this competitive industry.

2. Francesca Gino Sues Harvard and DataColada for $25 Million

After the scandalous fallout, Francesca Gino has decided to fight for her research reputation. She filed a defamation lawsuit against Harvard University and the DataColada team. According to Vox, this lawsuit does not have any legal merit. However, the long and expensive legal process will be punishment enough for the research detectives. If the lawsuit goes to trial, Francesca Gino better call Saul. 

3. Dan Ariely Escapes Scientific Cancellation

In the same paper that canceled Francesca Gino, it was revealed that world-famous behavioral scientist Dan Ariely also contributed to falsifying data. It seems this revelation was the best-kept open secret in behavioral psychology.

Because of Ariely’s work in top academic institutions, companies, and recent book deals, if he goes down, he takes down a lot of people with him. So it seems he has, once again, narrowly escaped scientific cancellation. Good luck with your new book, Dan!

4. The President of Stanford is Forced to Resign

One person who wasn’t as lucky as Dan Ariely was the long-time president of Stanford University: Marc Tessier-Lavigne. Falsified data and misrepresentation were found in 12 of the papers written or co-written by Tessier-Lavigne.

Unlike Gino, Tessier-Lavigne is not suspected of misrepresenting the data himself. However, he had unrealistic expectations for his research team and cultivated a toxic lab culture. In return, Tessier-Lavigne will retain his position as a faculty member at Stanford University but has to resign as the president.

5. 125 Scientists Write A Letter Calling IIT Pseudoscience

Once the heat from the data falsifiers died down, another bombshell rocked the neuroscience community. A letter written by 125 scientists was published stating that a popular theory of consciousness, integrated information theory (IIT), was “pseudoscience!”

As scientists who dedicate years of work to a scientific theory, the last thing we would want for our life’s work is to be called “pseudoscience.”

However, the recent media hailing IIT as the leading theory of consciousness rubbed other consciousness researchers the wrong way. Therefore, they wrote the infamous letter, which was dubbed a “hit job” by some, laying out their concerns. One of their biggest concerns was the fact the IIT has failed to make any predictions that can be tested empirically and falsified. According to Karl Popper, this is the distinction between science and pseudoscience.

6. Academia Weighs In On This Letter Via Twitter

IIT’s failure to falsify and its spread into the general news has fueled what is probably the biggest academic Twitter fight of the year.

Some of these discussions revolve around whether, despite all objections, “pseudoscience” is an appropriate term for IIT. After all, the connotations of the word link it to disgraced scientific fields like phrenology and social Darwinism. Others discuss the ethics of how to debate in science in 2023. Can scientists just “cancel” scientific theories, not through peer-reviewed evidence, but by posting pre-print letters on Twitter?

It’s garnered the attention of major neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers like David Chalmers and Patricia Churchland. As a philosophy student who spent the majority of my education on famous books and papers from these people, it’s interesting to see their arguments move to Twitter. It’s like hearing from Gandalf on the current state affairs in Middle Earth.

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