Thus read a couple of recent entries to the highly informative and often entertaining blog Retraction Watch. Blog authors Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus note that, “Unlike newspapers, which strive for celerity as much as accuracy, science journals have the luxury of time. Thorough vetting, through editorial boards, peer reviewers and other filters, is the coin of the realm...And yet mistakes happen.”
Retraction Watch examines the underbelly of academic publishing by investigating how mistakes and intentional malfeasance make it into the published scientific literature and how such lapses once discovered are handled by the journals. The focus tends to fall more on the life sciences as Oransky and Marcus are both medical reporters.
Though most retractions are due to technical errors, honest mistakes, and surprisingly often accidental publication, of course, the juicy stories tend to be those that involve intentional misconduct, plagiarism, falsification of data and other acts of transgression. For example, Retraction Watch recently profiled a fascinating study that found that about three quarters of retracted drug studies were due to falsified data and plagiarism. And in case you think this is a problem on the periphery, one of the cases profiled involved The Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world.
The authors themselves are not sure what need this blog fulfills. I think it is useful for anyone interested in getting a feel for the kinds of ethical issues, grey areas and assorted problems that seem to occur in academic publishing. In the end, it is much better to learn from someone else’s mistake than to make your own.
[Benjamin Harnke, Education and Reference Librarian]