History helps us to understand what has happened so that we can control what happens again. Even if we cannot control it, we will know not to be surprised.
In the words of historian Daniel Boorstin
"Our past is only a little less uncertain than our future, and, like the future, it is always changing, always revealing and concealing. We might better think of Prophecy as History in reverse."
I have been working hard to gather dated records of corruption and poor leadership in science and academia in general, editorial misconduct, the forgotten lessons we should not forget, and a few things that just happen to interest me. They tell a story of meaningless attempts to define and redefine what we mean by scientific misconduct, while ignoring many actual problems and the meaning of science itself. They tell a story of cover-up, deception and the bullying of those who have raised concerns. There are stories of shoddy science, some mistakes, fraud, and a few very evil acts.
Forgetting history is why some wax lyrical about the wonders of a new clinical trials register while ignoring what has already happened. It is why we ignore the fact that we already had a clinical trials register - it was called the FDA (and the MHRA). Those charged with maintaining that previous register colluded (through legislation and practice) to help commercial companies hide inconvenient clinical trials. It is why the wrong questions are asked.
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."
(Pynchon T, 1995 Gravity's Rainbow. ISBN 140188592)
How many know that Pfizer was involved in human military research in an attempt to produce incapacitating agents that damaged humans and produced (ironically) retrograde amnesia. Does that make us think differently about their more recent actions? Should it? How many recall the radiation experiments, scientific racism, the pseudoscience of eugenics and the illegal experiments carried out on poor, African or mentally disturbed children? How will our actions of 2007 be viewed in 2037?
I did a statistical calculation to work out how many events one would need to collect in order to make sure that the collection included at least one event per day. Assuming that bad events are randomly distributed in the calendar, I calculate that, given 3000 events, the chance that any one day will have no events is around 0.02664% (perhaps a Procter and Gamble statistician would check that out for me). Anyone who has events from the past to add to the database, please send along. So welcome - starting today.