Allegra Goodman – Intuition

Last modified: February 9, 2018

A junior researcher produces spectacular results, leading to a publication in Nature, a massive new grant and plenty of publicity. The whole laboratory throws itself into follow-up research, but one colleague is unable to reproduce the original results and finds indications that data was selectively omitted from the first paper. She gradually assumes the role of whistle blower. The Office for Research Integrity concludes that there has been scientific misconduct, but on appeal this verdict is overturned on a technicality. Meanwhile, a senator has taken up the case as part of his crusade against science. Right up until the last page, the reader does not know what really happened.

An impressive book. The story shows how ambition, outside pressure, sloppiness and lack of supervision can tempt scientists into irresponsible behaviour. And also that there are many shades of grey in the spectrum between absolute irreproachability and full-blown misconduct. Under a magnifying glass, it is all too easy to find irregularities in day-to-day scientific practice. But interpreting them correctly is difficult. The clever thing about this novel is that the author is able to describe the motives and emotions of the researcher, the whistle blower and their supervisors in a credible manner. In the end there are only losers, but the harm done to their reputations has little to do with the facts of the case.

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