It would be difficult to read the recent scientific literature on retractions and miss Grant Steen’s contributions. Retraction Watch readers are no doubt familiar with his work by this point, and if they’re not, we’d recommend spending some time with it. The journal Publications — an MDPI title — has asked him to guest-edit a special issue on scientific misconduct, and Steen asked us to get the word out, so we’re happy to post this introduction from him:
It may be true that scientists who fabricate or falsify data believe they know the “right” answer in advance of the data, and that they will soon have the data necessary to support their favored conclusion. It may therefore seem legitimate to these scientists to engage in misconduct; they are simply saving time. They may even be convinced that they are serving the greater good by pushing a bold “truth” into print. But humans are so prone to misperception that the process of scientific discovery has been developed to protect us from the malign consequences of wishful thinking. Measurement validation, hypothesis testing, random allocation of subjects, blinding of outcome assessment, replication of results, referee and peer review, and open sharing of trade secrets are crucial to establish the truth of a scientific idea. If these careful processes are subverted through misconduct, published scientific results become prone to retraction.
A special journal issue—Misconduct in Scientific Publishing—will explore research misconduct through the lens of scientific publishing. Journal retractions have been discounted as the “tip of the iceberg” of scientific misconduct. Perhaps retraction is a poor surrogate for misconduct, in the same sense that speeding citations are a poor surrogate for reckless driving. Highway Patrol tickets are unlikely to tell us the average speed on our highways. Does this imply that retractions are not a useful surrogate of misconduct? Is misconduct much more prevalent than retractions would suggest? Is it true that only the most flagrant examples of either research misconduct or reckless driving are cited?
How can research misconduct be measured? Are journal retractions a valid proxy for research misconduct? Does the surge in journal retractions signal that there has been an actual increase in misconduct? Or are journals simply more aggressive about weeding out questionable papers? Is it possible to recognize research misconduct before it gets published? Are certain features characteristic of papers flawed by misconduct? Are surveys of scientist behaviors valid or do they misrepresent the prevalence of misconduct? Is there a way to measure misconduct without relying on scientists to self-reveal?
We need a careful analysis of research misconduct and how it is measured, to mitigate damage to the literature. I look forward to your contributions and your insights on this important topic.
Instructions, from the publisher’s site:
Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you have registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. A limit of 3,000 words is encouraged for the body of the paper (excluding Abstract, References, Tables, and Figures). References should number between 20 and 50, with an emphasis on new literature that has been published within the past 5 years. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as they are accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review papers, brief editorials, and short communications are invited.
Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors is available on the Instructions for Authors page, together with other relevant information for manuscript submission. Publications is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.
Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. For the first couple of issues the Article Processing Charge (APC) will be waived for well-prepared manuscripts. English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.