Does focusing on wrongdoing in research feed mistrust of science?
There have been a number of thoughtful stories and opinion pieces on scientific fraud recently. There was Brian Deer in the Sunday Times of London last month. Paul Jump, at the Times Higher Education, later that month looked at the lessons of one particular case. Alok Jha, of the Guardian, took on the issue last week.
Yesterday, in a Knight Science Journalism Tracker post on a symposium on communicating science with integrity, Deborah Blum suggested science writers “need to be increasingly aware – and wary – of these issues in academic publishing,” while noting that they are a “minority report.” (And thanks to all of those pieces for the mentions and kind words about Retraction Watch.)
Some scientists, of course, agree, if the steady deluge of tips we get from working researchers is any indication. “We must be open about our mistakes,” wrote Jim Woodgett, of the Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, in Nature earlier this month.
But not everyone thinks highlighting misconduct is such a good idea, and they’ve let us know publicly and privately. As we note in our most recent LabTimes column, which went live today:
The argument goes something like this: Science is self-correcting, so it takes care of its own mistakes. And scientific fraud is rare, so focusing on misconduct gives a distorted picture of research that will only give ammunition to critics, who want to cast doubt on subjects such as climate change and vaccine safety.
We have some answers to that argument, and a sense of what we think is really fueling mistrust of science, under the title “Stop Shooting the Messenger.” We hope you’ll give the column a read, and come back to let us know what you think.