We are judging individuals and institutions unfairly. Here’s what needs to change.

Yves Gingras
Yves Gingras

The way we rank individuals and institutions simply does not work, argues Yves Gingras, Canada Research Chair in the History and Sociology of Science, based at the University of Quebec in Montreal. He should know: In 1997, he cofounded the Observatoire des sciences et des technologies, which measures innovation in science and technology, and where he is now scientific director. In 2014, he wrote a book detailing the problems with our current ranking system, which has now been translated into English. Below, he shares some of his conclusions from “Bibliometrics and Research Evaluation: Uses and Abuses.”

Retraction Watch: You equate modern bibliometric rankings of academic performance to the fable about the Emperor’s New Clothes, in which no one dares to tell a leader that he is not wearing an invisible suit – rather, he is naked. Why did you choose that metaphor? Continue reading We are judging individuals and institutions unfairly. Here’s what needs to change.

What should you do if a paper you’ve cited is later retracted?

RW logoWe all know that researchers continue to cite papers long after they’ve been retracted, posing concerns for the integrity of the literature. But what should you do if one of the papers you’ve cited gets retracted after you’ve already cited it?

We posed this question to some members of the board of directors of our parent non-profit organization, who offered up some valuable advice based on many years of experience working at journals and organizations such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

The first step: Determine whether the fact a reference has been retracted has any impact on the conclusions of your own paper. From Elizabeth Wager, publications consultant, Sideview; former chair, COPE:

Continue reading What should you do if a paper you’ve cited is later retracted?

How false information becomes fact: Q&A with Carl Bergstrom

Photo credit: Corina Logan

Not every study contains accurate information — but over time, some of those incorrect findings can become canonized as “fact.” How does this happen? And how can we avoid its impact on the scientific research? Author of a study published on arXiv in SeptemberCarl Bergstrom from the University of Washington in Seattle, explains how the fight over information is like a rugby match, with competing sides pushing the ball towards fact or falsehood — and how to help ensure the ball moves in the right direction.

Retraction Watch: What factors play a role in making false statements seem true? Continue reading How false information becomes fact: Q&A with Carl Bergstrom

Would peer review work better if reviewers talked to each other?

Katherine Brown

Would distributing all reviewers’ reports for a specific paper amongst every referee before deciding whether to accept or reject a manuscript make peer review fairer and quicker? This idea — called “cross-referee commenting” — is being implemented by the journal Development, as part of its attempt to improve the peer-review process. Katherine Brown, executive editor of Development from Cambridge, UK, who co-authored a recent editorial about the phenomenon, spoke to us about the move. 

Retraction Watch: Many journals share the reviews of a particular paper with those who’ve reviewed it. What is cross-referee commenting in peer review and how is it different from current reviewing processes? Continue reading Would peer review work better if reviewers talked to each other?

What if scientists funded each other?

Johan Bollen
Johan Bollen

We were struck recently by a paper in Scientometrics that proposed a unique way to fund scientists: Distribute money equally, but require that each scientist donate a portion to others – turning the federal funding system into a crowd-sourcing venture that funds people instead of projects. The proposal could save the inordinate amount of time scientists currently spend writing (and re-writing) grants, but would it actually work? First author Johan Bollen, of Indiana University, explains.

Retraction Watch: You propose something quite unique: Fund everyone equally, but ask them to give a fraction of their funding to someone else. Is the idea that scientists most respected by their peers will “earn” a higher percentage of funding, and everyone is just acting as reviewers? Continue reading What if scientists funded each other?

Do scientific manuscripts need cover letters?

James Kenar
James Kenar

How important is it to include a cover letter with a manuscript submission?

It seems that opinions differ. A 2013 article in Science Careers asked if it was a “relic;” but in a recent editorial, a journal editor reassures his readers that yes, he reads every cover letter — and yes, it’s important. (If you agree with him, let us know in our poll, below.)

In “Dear Authors: We Do Read Your Cover Letters,” James Kenar, editor of the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, insists on their importance: Continue reading Do scientific manuscripts need cover letters?

Why do scientists commit misconduct?

Cristy McGoff
Cristy McGoff

What makes a person fabricate data? Pressure from different corners in his or her life, to get published, funding, or promotions? Are there personality traits that occur more often among those caught committing misconduct? We spoke with Cristy McGoff, the Director of the research integrity office at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro – who also has a master’s degree in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice – about the minds of serial fraudsters.

Retraction Watch: Let’s start with your background. Why did you make the switch from forensic psychology to research compliance? Continue reading Why do scientists commit misconduct?

Meet one of science publishing’s sentinels: Rolf Degen

Rolf Degen
Rolf Degen

To many Retraction Watch readers, the name Rolf Degen will sound very familiar – for the last few years, he’s earned quite a few “hat tips” by alerting us to retraction notices published across a wide range of fields of research, as well as research on trends in science publishing. We spoke to him about his passion for “truth, wisdom, and the scientific enterprise.”

Retraction Watch: Your name with be familiar to many readers, so can you tell us a bit about yourself? Continue reading Meet one of science publishing’s sentinels: Rolf Degen

Can universities claim immunity in misconduct lawsuits? What a recent ruling suggests

Callan Stein
Callan Stein

Last week, George Washington University (GWU), a private institution in Washington DC, settled a case with scientist Rakesh Kumar, who had claimed breach of contract and emotional distress following a misconduct investigation against him. But earlier this year, a judge dismissed another one of the scientist’s claims, after GWU argued it had the same “official immunity” the government enjoyed, since it also conducts research misconduct investigations. Does the ruling set a precedent? We spoke to Callan Stein, a lawyer who represents U.S. researchers in misconduct cases, who has discussed the implications on his law firm’s site.

Retraction Watch: Can you explain more about this “official immunity” the government has regarding research misconduct, and why the judge thought this applied to GWU, as well? Continue reading Can universities claim immunity in misconduct lawsuits? What a recent ruling suggests

Publishing needs more science, fewer stories: Q&A with founders of ScienceMatters

Lawrence Rajendran

Ever wish you could just publish an exciting result, without having to wait for the entire string of data that follows in order to tell an entire story, which then gets held up for months by peer review at traditional journals? So do a lot of other researchers, who are working on ways to sidestep those barriers. One new project: ScienceMatters, a publishing platform where scientists can submit single, robust results for relatively quick peer review. We spoke with co-founders Lawrence Rajendran and Mirko Bischofberger about how this new next-generation journal platform works, and why it’s important.

Retraction Watch: You accept “only single observations, properly conducted and robustly validated.” Why did you want to restrict your publications to something so specific, and relatively narrow? Continue reading Publishing needs more science, fewer stories: Q&A with founders of ScienceMatters