health sciences, “a variety of informal and formal practices and procedures currently exist in the academic research environment to assure and maintain the high quality of research conduct” (IOM, 1989a, p. 18).
Physicist Richard Feynman invoked the informal approach to communicating the basic principles of science in his 1974 commencement address at the California Institute of Technology (Feynman, 1985):
[There is an] idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. In summary, the idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution, not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. (pp. 311-312)
Many scholars have noted the implicit nature and informal character of the processes that often guide scientific research practices and inference.3 Research in well-established fields of scientific knowledge, guided by commonly accepted theoretical paradigms and experimental methods, involves few disagreements about what is recognized as sound scientific evidence. Even in a revolutionary scientific field like molecular biology, students and trainees have learned the basic principles governing judgments made in such standardized procedures as cloning a new gene and determining its sequence.
In evaluating practices that guide research endeavors, it is important to consider the individual character of scientific fields. Research fields that yield highly replicable results, such as ordinary organic chemical structures, are quite different from fields such as cellular immunology, which are in a much earlier stage of development and accumulate much erroneous or uninterpretable material before the pieces fit together coherently. When a research field is too new or too fragmented to support consensual paradigms or established methods, different scientific practices can emerge.