Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sox/Rennie on science fraud/cleansing the literature

Sox and Rennie have an excellent article: Research Misconduct, Retraction, and Cleansing the Medical Literature: Lessons from the Poehlman Case in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Their summary:

Since the ORI announced its findings in the Poehlman case, several other cases (13, 16, 18, 19, 34) have come to light. Scientific misconduct is endemic, so the scientific community must improve its response. The Poehlman case teaches us 5 lessons about the dissemination of defective research. First, the scientific community must assume that every article written by an author who has committed scientific fraud is unreliable until someone close to the work has explained the specific reasons why he or she can vouch for its integrity. Second, the guilty scientist's coauthors bear primary responsibility for publicly validating or retracting their joint publications. Third, journal readers cannot necessarily count on journal editors to retract tainted articles. Fourth, in the interests of transparency, editors should use the word "retraction" only in cases of fraud. Finally, even when a journal has published a retraction, authors continue to cite a fraudulent article, often for years. We can expect progress toward solving these problems if the parties involved recognize their responsibilities and act. The Table identifies the main parties (research institutions, editors, and citing authors) and delineates each one's responsibilities in investigating claims of fraudulence, correcting the scientific literature, and preventing misconduct.

Reference 16 is to Editorial Expression of Concern by Donald Kennedy, Science, Vol. 311. no. 5757, p. 36 (6 Jan 06):

Science is publishing this expression of concern to alert our readers that serious concerns have been raised about the validity of the findings in these two papers. We are working with the authors and SNU to proceed with the retraction of the 2005 paper (1). We will provide more information on the 2004 paper as it becomes available.

Donald Kennedy


W. S. Hwang et al., Science 308, 1777 (2005).
Interim Report on Professor Hwang Woo-Suk, Investigation Committee, Seoul National University, released 23 Dec. 2005.
W. S. Hwang et al., Science 303, 1669 (2004).

**As an aside on citation, we see that the Wall Street Journal and eBay in its brief to the Supreme Court cited the 90% patent grant rate numbers in 2006, even though these numbers had been "corrected" by the authors in 2002.

**Of JACS, from C&E News, March 15, 2006:

Columbia professor of chemistry Dalibor Sames has withdrawn the papers. He is coauthor along with his former research group member Bengü Sezen, who was awarded a Ph.D. degree from Columbia in 2005. The journal has published other papers in which Sezen and Sames are coauthors.

Sames was not able to speak with C&EN because the matter is under investigation by Columbia. Sezen could not be reached by C&EN press time.

JACS Editor Peter J. Stang, a professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, says Sames’s retraction of the papers “is an example of the self-correcting nature of science.” He notes that it was Sames himself who found that Sezen’s research results could not be reproduced and reported this fact promptly to the journal.

Stang notes that in cases of suspected scientific fraud, journals “are not equipped to do investigations.” He says institutions receiving federal research funds are required to investigate such matters through their office of research integrity.


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