While that doesn’t mean that good science is not being done, he told me, “it certainly slows research, it wastes a heck of a lot of money, and we ought to do more to clean up the literature than we actually do.” GOT A QUESTION FOR DILEMMAS? As one case in point, Steneck recalled a postdoctoral researcher who told him that leading investigators in an emerging area of biomedical science had improperly calibrated some equipment.
If you’re a scientist or science journalist wrestling with an ethical dilemma of your own — or if you’re simply curious about an ethical quandary attending scientific research — send an email to [email protected] Consequently, most of the early studies were misleading, yet no one was willing to address it.
I received an email from a wildlife researcher — I’ll use the pseudonym Scientist A — who wanted to anonymously seek advice on a professional quandary.
This researcher believes that two colleagues are presenting data on a controversial wildlife species in a misleading way.
The trouble is, pursuing retractions or corrections is often an uphill struggle.
Generally, going through all the “proper channels” for addressing flawed research — from writing letters to authors or journal editors to requesting a retraction — seldom works, said Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch, a website dedicated to tracking retractions made by scientific journals.“The leaders did not want to retract their earlier research and the postdoc was not willing to risk a career,” Steneck said.Dozens of the unreliable articles remain in the published literature, and while most experts in the field know that, outsiders may not have a clue.As a result, Scientist A is now pondering whether the right move is to write another commentary and continue discussing the issue publicly in the literature — or demand retraction of recent papers by Scientists B and C.“Is this a case for scientific debate,” Scientist A wondered in the email message, “or a case of misconduct?Scientists are supposed to rigorously look at all the evidence bearing upon a question and evaluate it openly, so that others can assess whether their conclusions are right.“If you’re concealing some piece of information that undermines the case that you’re making, then clearly you’re not being transparent,” Parker said — and that, to him, potentially smells of misconduct.The dataset now spans roughly four decades, but when the method for counting the critters changed in the 1990s, the population census leapt by an unprecedented amount.While Scientist A says the switch in survey methodology created the illusion of a spike in the animal’s population growth, the colleagues — whom we’ll refer to as Scientists B and C — portrayed the increase as a biological reality.And calls for more aggressive policing of peer-reviewed work have been on the rise for years, as have attempts to create safe-spaces for scientists to own up to their own research mistakes.But at the heart of Scientist A’s lament are some fundamental questions that, sooner or later, every researcher is likely to run into: What’s the best way to address suspected inaccuracies or misleading information in the scientific literature, which is supposed to reflect our best approximations of reality?