Hoping This Does NOT Apply to You

The headline says it all. Grant Steen, a member of WebMedCentral Ethics Faculty, is seeking volunteers who have committed scientific fraud to share their personal experience.  He is looking for a 3,000 word (or less) blog. Be prepared to share specifics. And your story could become a chapter in a book. Specifically, he is looking for first-person accounts and answers to these questions:

  • What actually happened?
  • What is the scientific story behind the transgression?
  • How did you (or a colleague) fabricate or falsify data?
  • What was the short- or long-term goal of the deception?
  • Did you perceive any significant obstacles to fabrication or falsification?
  • Did the research infrastructure fail in any way?
  • How was the fraud discovered?
  • Do you believe that the scientific enterprise was damaged?
  • What was the aftermath for you and for your collaborators?
  • What are your thoughts and perceptions now?

For more details on the request, and how to reply, see the RetractionWatch post. RetractionWatch is a grass-roots driven blog that tracks retractions of scientific journals. It was founded by Ivan Oransky (@ivanoransky) and Adam Marcus (@armarcus). As

While on the topic of scientific integrity and fraudulent behaviors, it is relevant to recall definition of integrity. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines integrity as ‘adhering to a code of especially moral values‘.

Biologist Jim Woodgett, writing in Nature, is quoted on RetractionWatch:

The scientific community must be diligent in highlighting abuses, develop greater transparency and accessibility for its work, police research more effectively and exemplify laudable behaviour. This includes encouraging more open debate about misconduct and malpractice, exposing our dirty laundry and welcoming external examination. A good example of this, the website Retraction Watch (retractionwatch.wordpress.com), shines light on problems with papers and, by doing so, educates and celebrates research ethics and good practice. Peer pressure is a powerful tool — but only if peers are aware of infractions and bad practice.

We must be vigilant. We must also be transparent. This raises the topic of conflict of interest. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine has issued a consensus statement on Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education and Practice.  Everybody should be aware of these codes. We also need to apply them to our daily lives. Many professional societies, e.g. the American Society for Nutrition have published Conflict of Interest Guidelines for its Authors, Reviewers and Editors.

While I applaud Grant Steen, Ivan Oransky, and Adam Marcus for holding science accountable, I hope their ‘well soon dries up’. Not because people don’t report suspect science but because fraud disappears.

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About Michael McBurney

Personal Blog | Nutrition science | Generally curious about impact of social media and open access journals on science communication. Employed by DSM.
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