Saturday, December 24, 2005

Issues of peer review; co-authorship

Of the Hwang matter, I saw a post on peer review which is of relevance to proposals by Rebecca Eisenberg and others for peer review of patent applications. The post included the words:

Another flaw lies in the peer review system for scientific publication. In the real world, peer review is a misnomer and can be more appropriately renamed "buddy review" i.e. if you have lots of good buddies in high places, you are more likely to get your manuscripts published. Journal editorial boards have often been likened to college fraternities. If you are in the club, the path will be a lot smoother for you.

Of the issue of peer review, the Hwang paper published in Science on June 17, 2005 (online version available May 19), was received on March 15 and accepted May 12. The gap between receipt and acceptance is shorter than average, suggesting that review was relatively quick. On the face of the paper, some issues could have been raised about the DNA profiles, but apparently were not. For example, the traces for several cell lines appear to be identical to the traces from the respective patients, raising an issue of copying similar to the fraud involving Jan-Hendrik Schon. There is also an issue of duplicated images beyond the scope initially admitted to Science by Hwang.

These sort of things could have been caught by the reviewers, but were not, neither in the case of Hwang nor in the earlier case of Schon. Whether this is the fault of a buddy system of review, wishful thinking by the editors and reviewers, or simply a lack of attention to detail by the reviewers remains to be seen. Certainly, research in an area can build up a constituency, wherein it is to the advantage of all constituents that favorable results appear in high profile journals such as Science and Nature, and more research dollars become available to all constituents. Separately, once journals publish the work of one research group in an area (earlier work by Hwang appeared in Science, 303, 1669 (2004)), they themselves can become stakeholders.

Hwang is the first listed author and Schatten is the last, although only the names Hwang and Schatten bear asterisks and email addresses for contact.

According to a report in Forbes, based on information from Roh Sung-Il, ONLY Hwang and Schatten wrote and saw the manuscript prior to publication.

The anonymous post on the "PD Notebook" board happened within days after the appearance of the online version, and may have originated with one of the other 23 co-authors. Schatten's contact with Science about withdrawal of his name happened after the "PD Notebook"/MBC reporters contacted some of the Koreans in Pittsburgh.

The insistence on Science of an agreement among all authors for RETRACTION is problematic if there were no agreement among all authors as to SUBMISSION. In the case of US patent applications, prosecution cannot begin until all inventors sign a declaration, which includes, among other things, a statement of knowledge of the submitted application. Furthermore, in the earlier case of Schon, it is less than clear that Schon agreed to retraction of his papers in Science, including the one about a superconducting material based on oxidized buckminsterfullene (aka buckyball).

See also comments on

***More on peer review

of law journals see (which list does not seem to include the Journal of Law & Economics)

of Hwang, a link to a note from the BBC (also published on IPBiz):


Blogger Lawrence B. Ebert said...

There's now an egg-shaped fullerene.

Chemists from Virginia and California have cooked a soup of fullerenes which produced an improbable buckyegg. The egg-shaped structure of their 'buckyballs' was a complete surprise for the researchers. In fact, they wanted to trap some atoms of terbium in a buckyball "to make compounds that could be both medically useful and well-tolerated in the body."

11:21 AM  

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