It’s a question faced by scientists daily: if you found that X wasn’t associated with Y, would you report it? What if you found that treatment X was harmful to Y, would you report your findings? For example, let’s say you are an oncologist and you just concluded, based on years of research, that smoking wasn’t associated with cancer – would you report your findings? What if you were employed by the cancer drug’s maker or dealing with cancer personally, would you report your findings about treatment X then? Is it unethical to leave the results unpublished?
Questions of personal biases and valid science permeate all facets of science; of course, we as social scientists face these questions all the time in our research. Do personal biases get in the way of our science? Is there any way around our personal biases?
I’m a firm believer that the process of science allows us to eliminate many of the potential biases that we carry around with us. As Jay Ulfelder just pointed out in a blog post on Dart Throwing Chimp with respect to democracy research in comparative politics, the scientific process isn’t easy – there are often strong personal and professional reasons that lead people to stray from the scientific process (to me, sequestering results would imply straying from the scientific process). But, I would contend, the scientific process allows us to overcome many of our personal and professional biases. This is especially relevant, of course, to human rights research. As Jake Wobig just wrote,
“a person does not start studying human rights unless they want to identify ways to change the world for the better. However, wanting something to be so does not make it so, and we scholars do not do anyone any favors by describing the world incorrectly.”