The Millikan Case

An example which can be debated counts as falsification (Jennings, 2004), is in the paper by Nobel Prize winner Millikan. Millikan tried to measure the charge of the electron. In his publication he states that he made 58 measurements over the course of 60 consecutive days (Millikan, 1913, p. 133) and that he reported all findings (Millikan, 1913, p. 138). However, his notebooks from that time show that he made 140 measurements over the course of 6 months, with for some findings stating that he should use them in his article and for other measurement saying that he can’t use them in his article (Holton, 1978). 

The case of Millikan is in fact subject to much debate about whether it constitutes misconduct or not (Jennings, 2004).

Some points of reflection on this topic are:

·         When can one discard measurements? And on what ground? Is the intuition of the scientist enough to discard data?

·         Does the fact that the theory later turned out to be true have any consequences for the severity of the falsification?

In his article, Jennings assesses the Millikan case with regards to various codes of conduct available at the time of writing his article from 2004.

If we compare the case to the 2017 version of the ALLEA code of conduct for research integrity, then it may be argued that the case does in fact constitute ‘wrong’ behaviour as the ALLEA code counts omitting results without justification as falsification. Omitting data points without mentioning the selection then certainly falls under falsification.

Omitting data points itself was not misconduct per se, however, by not reporting about the data selection he was not acting with scientific integrity.