It’s time to get serious about decreasing bias in the clinical literature. Here’s one way to do that.

Tom Jefferson

Recently, we wrote in STAT about the “research integrity czars” that some journals are hiring to catch misconduct and errors. But are there other ways that journals could ensure the integrity of the scientific record? Tom Jefferson, a physician, methods researcher, and campaigner for open clinical trial data, has a suggestion, which he explores in this guest post. (Jefferson’s disclosures are here.)

Readers of Retraction Watch know that the quality control mechanisms in the publication of science, chiefly editorial peer review, are not infallible. Peer review in biomedicine in its current form and practice is the direct descendant of the bedside consultation. In a consultation the object or person under observation (patient/the journal submission) is observed and analyzed by the doctor (editor) who decides what the best course of action is. If unsure, the physician/editor may call on the help of outside specialists (the hospital physicians/referees) to help make a final decision on the therapy and fate of the patient/submission.

Such a wonderfully genteel paradigm of scrutiny and scholarly activity cannot be expected to identify problems caused by the contemporary rampant commercialization of biomedical research and its dissemination. In fact it does not. In fact, the system as designed does little, if anything, to detect these issues. Continue reading It’s time to get serious about decreasing bias in the clinical literature. Here’s one way to do that.

On Giving Tuesday, please consider supporting Retraction Watch

We know there are a lot of causes that matter to you, but since you’re reading this, we may be one of them. So we’d like to ask for your support.

On this Giving Tuesday, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to The Center For Scientific Integrity, the 501(c)3 parent organization of Retraction Watch. Any amount helps. Your donation will help us shine a spotlight on scientific misconduct, and hold accountable the entities that profit from publishing, including journals, institutions, and individuals.

Here’s what your donations will continue to help make possible:

Continue reading On Giving Tuesday, please consider supporting Retraction Watch

It’s time to end the code of silence at universities

Brian Wansink

Yesterday, Cornell University told a group of researchers who had petitioned them to release a report of their investigation into alleged misconduct by Brian Wansink, a food marketing researcher who recently resigned his post there, that they would not release that report. As BuzzFeed reports, the university is now conducting a “Phase II” investigation into Wansink’s work. (It’s unclear what a “Phase II” investigation refers to; we’ve asked the university to clarify.)

Unfortunately, Cornell’s lack of transparency about the case puts them in the majority. Here’s a piece by our two co-founders, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, about why this veil of secrecy needs to be lifted.

For more than a decade, Cornell University’s Brian Wansink was a king in the world of nutrition. He published his findings — on everything from why small plates make us eat less to the behavior of obese people at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets — in top-tier journals and garnered media coverage in prestigious newspapers. His work even formed the basis of U.S. dietary guidelines.

But Wansink’s fortune cookie has crumbled. In September, he resigned in disgrace from Cornell. He has now lost 15 papers to retraction — one, twice — and the university found him guilty of committing research misconduct. Continue reading It’s time to end the code of silence at universities

We’re officially launching our database today. Here’s what you need to know.

Readers, this is a big day for us.

We’re officially launching the Retraction Watch Database of more than 18,000 retractions, along with a six-page package of stories and infographics based on it that we developed with our partners at Science Magazine. In that package, you’ll learn about trends — some surprising, some perhaps not — and other tidbits such as which countries have the highest retraction rates. Thanks as always to our partners at Science, particularly Jeffrey Brainard and Jia You, who crunched the numbers and developed the package.

As readers no doubt know, we’ve been working on the database for some years. Some have asked us why it has taken so long — can’t we just pull retractions from existing databases like PubMed, or publishers’ sites? The answer is resoundingly no. All of those databases are missing retractions, whether by design or because notices aren’t transmitted well. That’s why we found more than 18,000, far more than you’ll find elsewhere. And we also went through each one and assigned it a reason, based on a detailed taxonomy we developed over eight years of reporting on retractions. Continue reading We’re officially launching our database today. Here’s what you need to know.

Retraction Watch readers, we need your help to be able to continue our work

Dear Retraction Watch readers:

Have you seen our database of retractions?

While we’re still putting finishing touches on it before an official launch, with more than 18,000 retractions, it’s already the most comprehensive collection of retractions anywhere. We have learned a great deal as we’ve gathered those retractions, which we look forward to sharing quite soon, along with ways that the database can help cut down on waste in research, but — and this is key — it has been painstaking work.

Because of how scattered, incomplete, and sometimes even wrong retraction notices are, every retraction must be located, double-checked, and entered by hand. That means all 18,244, at the time of this writing — and growing every day. Our researcher spends much of her time curating the database, assisted at various points by a small army of terrific librarians, graduate students, and others interested in cleaning up the literature.

As you can guess, this effort requires resources. We have been fortunate to have this and other work funded by generous grants over the years, going back to 2014, but those grants have ended. We are always in discussions with past and potential funders — and would be grateful to hear suggestions on that front — but as is the case for most non-profits, our future depends on maintaining sufficient financial support. We’re therefore asking you to consider a tax-deductible financial contribution to our parent non-profit organization, The Center For Scientific Integrity. Continue reading Retraction Watch readers, we need your help to be able to continue our work

Retraction Watch readers, we need your help to be able to continue our work

Dear Retraction Watch readers:

Have you seen our database of retractions?

While we’re still putting finishing touches on it before an official launch, with more than 18,000 retractions, it’s already the most comprehensive collection of retractions anywhere. We have learned a great deal as we’ve gathered those retractions, which we look forward to sharing quite soon, along with ways that the database can help cut down on waste in research, but — and this is key — it has been painstaking work.

Because of how scattered, incomplete, and sometimes even wrong retraction notices are, every retraction must be located, double-checked, and entered by hand. That means all 18,129, at the time of this writing — and growing every day. Our full-time researcher spends much of her time curating the database, assisted at various points by a small army of terrific librarians, graduate students, and others interested in cleaning up the literature.

As you can guess, this effort requires resources. We have been fortunate to have this and other work funded by generous grants over the years, going back to 2014, but those grants have ended. We are always in discussions with past and potential funders — and would be grateful to hear suggestions on that front — but as is the case for most non-profits, our future depends on maintaining sufficient financial support. We’re therefore asking you to consider a tax-deductible financial contribution to our parent non-profit organization, The Center For Scientific Integrity. Continue reading Retraction Watch readers, we need your help to be able to continue our work

Meet the journal full of baloney (and cheese)

“Baloney on Wonder Bread with American Cheese,” by Ann Larie Valentine

For researchers wandering in the food desert of scientific publishing, the journal description is irresistible — or, you might say, appetizing. Meet The International Cheese Journal:

Have you ever wondered how your colleagues got each cheese published in journals with great sounding names? And that there was so little content in it? You can now too!

We asked Marcel Waldvogel, who created the new journal, some questions how he came up with this delicious idea. He was kind enough to interrupt his sandwich lunch to answer: Continue reading Meet the journal full of baloney (and cheese)

Happy birthday, Retraction Watch: We’re eight today

Hey, we’re eight today!

Every year on August 3, we like to remind readers of everything we have to celebrate on our anniversary — and of what a privilege it is to be able to do this work.

We’ve come a long way since we launched in 2010. For one, we’re one shy of 4,500 posts. And we’re very close to completing work on something we hope we become an indispensable tool in scholarly publishing: Our database of retractions. Entries stretch back decades, and include nearly 18,000 retractions so far.

Now that the database is nearly complete, we’re able to step back, take stock, and think more broadly about scientific misconduct, academic incentives, and scholarly publishing. There are well over a thousand retractions each year, and we couldn’t possibly report on each one of them, so we are relying more and more on the database to inform researchers when a study is no longer reliable. Instead, we’re doing deeper dives, prompting us to file public records requests for reports of misconduct investigations and other materials (and our co-founders to urge universities to do a better job with them).

A lot of that work shows up in other outlets. In the past year, we’ve collaborated with a growing host of journalism organizations, using our joint resources to bring readers stories that go deep and reach larger audiences than we can on the blog. There are our established partnerships with STAT and Science, where we continue to break news and help readers make sense of developments. And this year we also appeared other places, for example: Continue reading Happy birthday, Retraction Watch: We’re eight today

Retraction Watch readers, we could still really use your help

Dear Retraction Watch readers:

We hope that you continue to enjoy Retraction Watch, and find it — and our database of retractions — useful. Maybe you’re a researcher who likes keeping up with developments in scientific integrity. Maybe you’re a reporter who has found a story idea in our database, or on the blog. Maybe you’re an ethics instructor who uses the site to find case studies. Or a publisher who uses our blog to screen authors who submit manuscripts — we know at least two who do.

Whether you fall into one of those categories or another, we need your help. Continue reading Retraction Watch readers, we could still really use your help

Reports of misconduct investigations can tell us a lot. Here are more than a dozen of them.

the waving cat, via Flickr

Fakery. Ignored whistleblowers. Sabotage. Subterfuge.

Reading reports of institutional investigations into allegations of misconduct can sometimes feel like reading a spy novel about science. And we’ve read a lot of them.

In a recent post that drew from one such report, we wrote:

Whenever we learn about misconduct cases at public universities, we file such public records requests to obtain more information because we believe, as did Justice Louis Brandeis, that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

But just as retraction notices are often unhelpful and even misleading, suggesting a lack of transparency, reports of institutional investigations can leave a lot to be desired, and reveal flaws in the the process that lead to them. As we and C.K. Gunsalus noted recently in JAMA: Continue reading Reports of misconduct investigations can tell us a lot. Here are more than a dozen of them.