In science and, indeed in any academic discipline, the line between foolishness and fraud is a narrow one (Parke 2000) that is crossed when those who have made a discovery discover that they got it wrong yet carry on as normal and conceal their mistakes. But if they then also obtain a pecuniary – or career - advantage by such deception their academic fraud should surely become a criminal one.
In 1939, Edwin Sutherland defined his new concept of white collar crime as: "a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." Strangely, scientific and other academic frauds seem to happen under the radar of the criminal justice system. Why?
'What is going on?' we might ask when voodoo science such as, for example, cold fusion – and other unfounded perpetual energy nonsense - attracts private funding in the millions because those who are peddling it cloak their claptrap under the excuses of 'official secrecy' and 'commercial sensitivity'. What is going on when universities employ professors who teach this unfounded claptrap to their students as though it is something other than unfounded foolishness?
Are private and public investors all really being suckered by the irrational logic of Pascal’s Wager (better to bet on the unlikely because the pay-off is huge) or could they possibly be knowingly running a racket – not so different to the type of thing practiced by organised criminals, and investment scam artists, where they are deliberately wasting the funder’s money on foolishness because they are corruptly benefiting themselves? Perhaps those in charge of budgets who invest in voodoo science are being paid for their own dishonesty through what we British call a back-hander (cash in a brown envelope) from the white coat criminals who are receiving the main pecuniary advantage by deception?
As a criminologist the possibility of ‘white coat crime’ is a strangely neglected area of research that I intend to explore in more depth.
Parke R. L. (2000) Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Sutherland, Edwin H. (1949). White Collar Crime. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.