The good news: Policy makers and the public seem to be increasingly taking scientific research seriously. The bad news? People who don’t like researchers’ findings seem to be increasingly coming after researchers and their universities. And some of those people are powerful.
For one of the comments on the site, the judge has asked to hold another hearing on March 19.
After the work of Fazlul Sarkar of Wayne State University appeared on the post-publication peer review site, he wasn’t happy about it. In October, he sued the site’s commenters, demanding that PubPeer release the names of his accusers. Sarkar, who has not been found to have committed research misconduct, claims he lost a lucrative job offer at the University of Mississippi as a result of the posts.
In December, PubPeer’s attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the motion; today, Hon. Sheila Ann Gibson of the Wayne County Circuit Court agreed to do so for all but one comment.
David Vaux, a cell biologist at the Walter + Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, explains how Nature could do more to remove bias from the peer review process. He previously wrote about his decision to retract a paper.
Last week, Nature announced that they are to offer authors of papers submitted to Nature or the monthly Nature research journals the option of having their manuscripts assessed by double-blind peer review, in which reviewers are blinded to the identity of authors and their institutions. Until now, papers sent to Nature, and most other journals, have been reviewed by a single-blind process, in which the reviewers know the identities and affiliations of the authors, but the authors are not told who the reviewers are. The goal of double-blind peer review is for submitted papers to be judged on their scientific merit alone, and thus to reduce publication bias.
While Nature should be applauded for this move, the way they have implemented it leaves room for improvement.
After a reader emailed the editors to raise suspicions about the data, corresponding author Christopher W. Bielawski, then based at the University of Texas at Austin, led an investigation of all the figures. It found substantial problems: “In over 50% of the figure parts, the authors deemed the data unreliable due to uncertainty regarding the origin of data or the manner in which the data were processed,” according to the retraction notice.
UT Austin concluded that there had been misconduct, but did not elaborate.
The authors of a 2007 PNAS paper that provided molecular details for how calorie restriction may act on Sir2 enzymes to extend life are now retracting their research after discovering a figure was compromised by “several unintentional anomalies in the background image.”