Yes, we are seeing more attacks on academic freedom: guest post by historian of science and medicine

Alice Dreger2We’re pleased to introduce readers to Alice Dreger, a historian of science and medicine at the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program in Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Her new book is “Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science,” out this week from Penguin Press. Read to the end for a chance to win a free copy.

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.

Technically, your university is supposed to protect your academic freedom. In my own university’s faculty handbook, academic freedom is the first topic discussed. But as I’ve learned from my own personal experiences, as well as from eight years studying the experiences of other researchers who have gotten into political hot water, your administration may not always have your back. Continue reading Yes, we are seeing more attacks on academic freedom: guest post by historian of science and medicine

Judge rules most of PubPeer’s commenters can remain anonymous

Falzul Sarkar
Falzul Sarkar

PubPeer won a near-complete victory in a Michigan court today.

A judge has agreed to allow the site to protect the identities of all but one of its anonymous commenters, after a cancer researcher demanded the site release the names of those who have critiqued his papers.

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.

Alexander Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented PubPeer in this case, told Retraction Watch: Continue reading Judge rules most of PubPeer’s commenters can remain anonymous

David Vaux: Nature’s decision to add double-blind peer review is good, but could be better

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.

vaux
David Vaux

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.

Continue reading David Vaux: Nature’s decision to add double-blind peer review is good, but could be better

Science chemistry paper earns retraction after expression of concern, marking second for UT group

scienceThe authors of a 2011 Science paper that proposed a new way to direct chemical bonds have withdrawn the paper after concerns about the data prompted an investigation and Editorial Expression of Concern last year from the journal. The retraction is the second for the group, which has also had seven other expressions of concern.

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.

Continue reading Science chemistry paper earns retraction after expression of concern, marking second for UT group

Authors retract 2007 PNAS paper on aging due to figure’s “unintentional anomalies”

pnas 2515The 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.”

According to study author David W. Piston at Vanderbilt University, first author Qinghong Zhang cut and pasted images together to beautify a figure showing how a form of sugar affects the expression of SIRT1, the mammalian version of the Sir2 enzyme: Continue reading Authors retract 2007 PNAS paper on aging due to figure’s “unintentional anomalies”