Sad to say, I set up this blog about a year ago and then promptly ignored it. But now I am back with a new design and a determination to get myself up and running again. And what more appropriate way to get back on the track than to comment on the recent op-ed piece in the NY Times by my heroes Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. I suppose anyone who has stumbled on to my blog is probably aware of who these fellows are, but, in case you haven’t, they established a blog called Retraction Watch (RW) in August of 2010. Retractions have increased about 10 fold over the last decade and RW has been a dynamic force in waking up the scientific community and the public at large to the uncomfortable fact that scientists are not angels, but people with lumps and warts just like everybody else. Scientists can make mistakes, but, worse than that, more than 2/3rds of retractions can be attributed to some form of scientific misconduct.
So last week Adam and Ivan came down hard on “scientific fraudsters” and on the institutions (universities, medical schools, government agencies like the US Public Health Service’s Office of Research Integrity (ORI)) that have let most of these miscreants get away with little more than a slap on the wrist and have done even less to recoup the taxpayers’ (my!) money. In a straw poll taken some months back, they asked “should scientific fraud be prosecuted as a crime?’. 635 readers responded with 83% voting “yes”. These may all have been members of the choir, but anyhow…
Adam and Ivan remind us that scientific integrity in the garb of the ORI (OSI at the time) fell flat on its face in the Baltimore/Imanishi-Kari case when it was over-ruled by higher up politicos with their own axes to grind. Adam and Ivan plead for more money for the ORI along with the power to issue subpoenas, an omission which permits the universities and other institutions to collude with the accused in withholding potentially damning information. Our heroes end their piece by calling for Congress to take action by widening the ORI’s powers and increasing it appropriations.
And then today, we have 3 letters on the Times’ Opinion Pages that reflect 3 different responses to Ivan and Adam. The first, written by a lawyer who represents accused scientists, points out that the federal regulations are flawed first because the accused does not have immediate access to the evidence, second because universities and medical schools do not call in outside experts (hear! hear!), third, the accused may not be represented by counsel during hearings and last that findings may be based on weak anomalies that are not necessarily fraudulent. This respondent calls for “fairer and more accurate fact-finding procedures”. The second applauds the op-ed piece and goes even further by calling for stiffer penalties. And the last calls attention to the temptations brought by the excessively competitive work environment that requires substantial outside grant support, an overabundance of publications and, I would add, the push for promotion and tenure. The second writer is a department chairman and the third is a psychology professor.
I addressed some of these things in the Opinion piece I wrote for the Scientist some months ago: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39139/title/Opinion–Reducing-Whistleblower-Risk/