The New York Times has an editorial today with which we wholeheartedly agree: The newspaper is calling on scientists — and even the government — to pay more attention to misconduct in research. (It also doesn’t hurt that the paper mentions us.)
The proximate cause of the editorial, titled “Scientists Who Cheat,” is the retraction by Science of the gay marriage study by Michael LaCour, which we — and the Times, among others — have covered extensively.
As the editorial rightly notes, the pressures to publish are pushing some researchers to make up data. (Monday’s paper also carries a page 1 article about the dangers of splashy science that’s worth reading.)
In theory, a journal’s peer reviewers are supposed to detect errors, but they often do not have the critical data needed to check the findings, nor the time to do so, particularly since they are seldom paid. Sometimes the cases only come to light when a whistle-blower, perhaps a student or researcher in the lab where the cheating occurs, points the finger. The scientific community clearly needs to build a better safety net.
It can start by ensuring that scientists, especially peer reviewers, are allowed to see the underlying data of a paper, which researchers are typically reluctant to share. The federal Office of Research Integrity should be given ample funds and sufficient independence to investigate all major cases that come to its attention. Another answer to the problem of fraudulent research, though, might be more research. The federal government could sponsor studies to determine how much cheating goes on, how much harm it causes and how best to combat it.
We couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. These are points that researchers and editors frequently make in publications that are targeted to their own communities, but it’s refreshing to see a paper that focuses on global issues prioritize improving the process of science.
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