A serious section concludes Richard Feynman’s Surely Youâ€™re Joking, in which he denounces various forms of bad science. He talks about the pseudoscience of UFOs and reflexology, but also about problems with the work done by credible scientists, such as the bias towards publishing positive results and ignoring negative or inconclusive ones. He raises issues about the quality of school textbooks and the ethics of those who publish and select them. He stresses the importance of retesting your assumptions, properly calibrating new equipment, and providing detailed information on the sources of error you think exist within your experiments. He also provides an important example of scientists fudging their numbers so as not to contradict a famous result.
At the very end, he gives some advice to those who are called upon to provide scientific advice to governments:
I say that’s also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don’t publish such a result, it seems to me you’re not giving scientific advice. You’re being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don’t publish it at all. That’s not giving scientific advice.
So I have just one wish for you — the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.
It is a warning that is especially pertinent today – particularly where science and politics collide in relation to environmental issues. The temptation to manipulate the science can be extreme. At the same time, the importance of transmitting scientific conclusions in a way that is both accurate and comprehensible is considerable. Maintaining scientific integrity while also providing accurate and applicable advice is a key ethical and professional requirement for today’s scientists, as well as those on the political and bureaucratic side who work with them.