- Public accusations of misconduct or incompetence should never be made lightly. If misconduct is really suspected, then the appropriate first course of action is to contact the relevant journal and ideally the research integrity officer (or equivalent) at the authors' home institution. Public accusation should not be a first recourse.
- Journals should deal with accusations in a timely way. Years passing before resolutions of inquiries is unacceptable. Authors stonewalling by refusing to respond to inquiries is unacceptable. While authors should be given every opportunity to respond, it is also not appropriate to, e.g., refuse to publish a comment because the authors drag their heels on writing a response.
- No one has yet come up with a perfect feedback mechanism. Things like pubpeer are better than nothing, but anonymous commenting, like anonymous peer review, is a double-edged sword. Yes, anonymity protects the vulnerable from possible retaliation. However, anonymity also leads to genuinely awful behavior sometimes.
- People are going to make public comments about the scientific literature - that's the nature of the internet, and in general that's a good thing. I would hope that they will do this with due consideration. The journals are free to encourage people to pursue concerns within the journal system, but it's not productive to imply that people who draw attention to suspect figures (for example) are somehow poor scientists or gleeful bullies. We're all on the same side (except the cheaters).
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
blogging and academic honesty
Paul Weiss and the editorial board of ACS Nano seem to have ignited a bit of a controversy with their editorial published a couple of weeks ago. The main message of the editorial seems to chastise bloggers and other social media users regarding accusations of scientific misconduct. As with many positions taken on the internet, there is a defensible point of view (in this case, "It is better to try to go through an investigative procedure regarding misconduct, given that the consequences of a false public accusation can be very severe") that was expressed in an inartful way (coming across as scolding, and implying that people who criticize published work are likely not necessarily accomplishing science themselves). As my mom used to say, sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it that matters. Clearly, as this extremely long thread on ChemBark and this response editorial by Nature will attest, there are differing views about this issue. Here's my take (not that I have any privileged point of view - your mileage may vary):
Posted by Douglas Natelson at 9:57 PM