Finding confirmation bias in famous experiments – the Robert Millikan edition

In the NYT, political scientist Michael Suk-Young Chwe recalls his Caltech physics professor showing students Robert Millikan’s lab notes from his famous oil-drop experiments that established the electrical charge of the electron:

“The notebooks showed many fits and starts and many “results” that were obviously wrong, but as they progressed, the results got cleaner, and Millikan could not help but include comments such as “Best yet — Beauty — Publish.” In other words, Millikan excluded the data that seemed erroneous and included data that he liked, embracing his own confirmation bias.”

He also suggests – less credibly – that science take a lesson from literary criticism, a field that – in his view – has “real standards of scholarly validity.”

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