Fooling Science | The Consequences

ONLINE POST in ENGLISH, commissioned | AMP Student 2016;14

Scientific knowledge scientist-with-microscope-996187_1280is continuously growing. Hundreds of research centres are scattered over the entire world, trying to push forward the boundaries of science. Due to the fast evolving technology science production as grown exponentially. However, when something is moving too fast it can easily become out of control. We know that knowledge isn’t static and something that is true today might not be tomorrow. The prevalence of scientific misconduct is rising, whether it is due to misconduct per se or due to better discovery of mistakes we still don’t know. Sometimes people deliberately try to forge results to change the paradigm other times honest errors occur. But overall it inevitably leads to a setback. What happens when this cases are detected?

The journal where the misleading information was published basically has two options: to issue a correction or to retract the article. Corrections are usually suitable when there is a small mistake attributable to an honest error or an omission in the list of contributors, for example. On the other hand, according to Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE) retraction guidelines, retraction is “a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon”. Contrasting with the clear and concise definition of retraction its applicability is much more complex.

It is essential to understand that one cannot simply retract an article based on a suspicion and further investigation is due. After confirming the scientific unreliability the authors should all agree to retract the article. In the rare event of the authors not reaching a consensus, the journal’s editors may retract the article themselves. While the investigation is undergoing the information remains available to the public and creating a false sense of knowledge over the topic.

Having an article retracted might destroy the career of an investigator, especially if it is related with tampering of the results. Research grants probably will be withdrawn and investigator will loose all of his credibility. One major example is the case of Joachim Boldt’s, a German anaesthetist prominent researcher in the fluid resuscitation topic, who got 94 papers retracted. In order to be up-to-date, we can visit Retraction Watch ( http://retractionwatch.com) where news about retractions are published.

In a scientific community where quantity often is valued over quality, investigators must remain strict to the ethical principles that govern scientific investigation. We must pay close attention to the papers we read and thoroughly analyse all the information.

References:

1)Committee On Publication Ethics,Retraction Guidelines, September 2009

2)Editorial, “The Long Road to Retraction”, Nature Medicine, 2003, doi:10.1038/nm0903-1093

3)Fiona Godlee, “Data transparency is the only way”, BMJ, 2016;352:i1261

4)Jacqui Wise, Boldt: the great pretender, BMJ, 2013;346:f1738

Leave a Reply