The Retraction Watch blog presents a convoluted tale of scientific insight, illusion, delusion, publication, retraction, and imagined introspection. Philosophers take note. Here’s the beginning:
what if a researcher fabricated findings without even knowing it?
That’s the idea behind a provocative paper just published online in Science and Engineering Ethics. In it, Matan Shelomi [pictured here], a graduate student in entomology at the University of California, Davis, describes the case of Jay Traver, an entomologist who, in 1951, published a description of her experiences with “a mite infestation of her scalp that resisted all treatment and was undetectable to anyone other than herself” in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington (PSEW). As Shelomi notes:
The Traver paper is unique in the scientific literature in that its conclusions may be based on data that was unconsciously fabricated by the author’s mind. The paper may merit retraction on the grounds of error or even scientific misconduct ‘‘by reason of insanity,’’ but such a retraction raises the issue of discrimination against the mentally ill.
Vaughan Bell, who tipped us off to Shelomi’s paper, wrote of Traver’s study earlier this year:
It is perhaps one of the most remarkable scientific papers ever published, not, as it turns out, because of the startling new discovery, but because the Professor had never been infected by parasites.
The bugs were hallucinated, the infestation a delusion and Traver was suffering from a mental illness….
(Vaguely related) BONUS (also HT Retraction Watch): Shelomi answers the question: Is it okay to kill bugs?)