Bad Persuasion but Great Science

Even when it fails, science can be well done.

Last year, cancer researcher Robert Mandic got news no scientist wants to hear. After publishing a paper on a rare head-and-neck cancer, he learned the cells he had been studying were instead cervical cancer. He notified the journal Oral Oncology, which retracted the article.

The WSJ article then narrates several other examples of failed science that required retraction on the specific problem of misidentifying cancer lines. Researchers receive cancer cell samples from other researchers that are mistakenly labeled which means everything else that follows will be wrong. This problem is a significant one for this line of science and one that always cautions, caution. Yet realize what you don’t see.


These scientists take the failure and deal with the consequences in public. They don’t try to treat the Bug as an undocumented feature, but call it for what it is – an error. Bad science would instead bring persuasion to bear and try to either rationalize the mistake or sell it as a New New Thing in the lab. Remember.

You Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple.