Peer-Reviewed Scientific Fraud

Probably not a big surprise that Science and Nature are closing out the year with commentaries on scientific fraud.

At Science, we have (instead of “Breakthrough of the Year”):

Breakdown of the Year: Scientific Fraud
Jennifer Couzin
Science 22 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5807, p. 1853

“Multiple inquiries discredited two papers Hwang published in Science in 2004 and 2005, which claimed some of the greatest accomplishments to date with human embryonic stem cells. The papers were retracted. But the scientific fraud, one of the most audacious ever committed, shattered the trust of many researchers and members of the public in scientific journals’ ability to catch instances of deliberate deception.

As it turned out, the Hwang debacle marked the beginning of a bad year for honest science. Incidents of publication fraud, if not on the rise, are garnering more attention, and the review process is under scrutiny.”

In Nature, we have humble pie … and a request for reader input and contribution to the peer-review process:

Peer review and fraud
Nature 444, 971-972 (21 December 2006) | doi:10.1038/444971b; Published online 21 December 2006

“Given the fact that cases of fraud demonstrably make it through refereeing processes, and given the importance of public trust in science, it proposes that journals apply additional scrutiny and risk assessment to papers that are likely to have a significant public impact, such as those with direct implications for policy, public health or climate change. The additional scrutiny recommended by the panel includes greater attention to raw data and a clarification of the contributions of each co-author.

Nature and the Nature research journals already encourage the specification of authors’ contributions to papers, and the uptake of this by authors has increased greatly in the past year — a fact that is welcomed by some funding agencies. We now intend to conduct a survey to help us decide whether to make this practice compulsory, and we would welcome readers’ feedback.

Another form of peer review emerges after publication, when work is replicated — or not. If this kind of discussion is to make it into the open, rather than be confined to gossip at conferences, it requires a forum where peers are able to comment on individual papers, with minimal editorial intervention. Would commenting on Nature papers be more widely adopted by researchers after they have been formally published than before? We intend to introduce this function next year, and find out.”

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