On the 16th, Nathan S Blow, Editor-in-Chief of BioTechniques wrote a piece about the Materials and Methods section of scientific papers. He points out that most authors do not provide enough detail for the reader to repeat the experiments. On the other hand, some authors tend to say too much or repeat methods in figure legends unnecessarily. He advocates specifying the vendors of various chemicals and supplies as these can vary in effectiveness. Being complete and specific in Materials and Methods can go a long way to preventing others from floundering and failing to replicate results for no other reason than the the protocols could not be appropriately reconstructed. And that can get you into trouble.
In his piece, he cites “a commentary in the journal Nature by Begley and Ellis that found that the results of 47 out of 53 studies could not be replicated. These preclinical studies formed the basis for other research studies and in some instances were the starting points for costly drug studies.” And further, he cites the Global Biological Standards Institute report that states “In interviews with 60 key figures in the life science community, nearly 75% of those interviewed described having to deal with irreproducible data and/or results”.
Blow’s current essay is a follow-up of a thoughtful editorial he wrote last January (A Simple Question of Reproducibility, BioTechniques 56:8 doi 10.2144/000114117) and is well worth the read.
From those intrepid bloggers, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky of The Retraction Watch, we have an opinion piece in LabTimes 5: 39 entitled “Time for a Retraction Penalty?” They point out that journals with high impact factors (e.g. Science, Nature, Cell, for example) also have high retraction rates. “What if journals earned impact reputation points for clear retraction notices? What if they earned similar points for responding quickly to questions about papers they’d published, instead of dragging their feet?”
As a crusader who has been trying to get several papers that contain, to my mind, unsustainable information, retracted without success, I would be happy to see journals face up to the fact that not every paper is absolutely true. We are all human, after all. And some false information is innocent error and other is out and out fraud.
Of greater interest to us all are the Ig Nobel Prizes in Medicine awarded recently at Harvard and reported on Medpage Today (www.medpagetoday.com). The top winner discovered that “strips of pork can be used to stop nosebleeds”. My husband claims that everyone when he was growing up in Iowa knew about that. Runners-up were rewarded for discovering that dogs orient themselves with the earth’s magnetic field when they poop (that may actually be true for our little Ripken or it may have to do with the directions the streets run on our morning walk. He does manage to drop them in a row: north to south or East to west, depending on which street we are on). Other studies were rewarded for analyzing people who see images of Jesus in pieces of toast and for finding that people who stay up late are more narcissistic than those who rise early.
Things seem to be going well in court for Marie DiFiore, a whistleblower in the pharmaceutical industry who suffered retaliation and termination for ratting on her company CSL Behring. Right on, Marie! And good luck!
In an Opinion article in the New Scientist, Richard Smith, formerly on editor of the BMJ and a founding member of COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) says that he believes that researc misconduct should be illegal remarking on the failure of scientists to deal with it themselves. He acknowledges that detecting fraud is not easy, but you can sometimes detect it statistically “because if you invent data you tend to come up with a recurrent pattern”. Don’t we know about that! (New Scientist, 13 September 2014|27.)
In another Opinion article in the same issue, by S. Alexander Haslam (pages 28-31) argues that the notion that atrocities can be rationalized because of “following orders” is no longer tenable. Atrocities “always involve a choice of engagements, and we are always accountable for our choices”.
And now our favorite athletic director has done it again. Julie Hermann, the Rutgers AD who pulls a salary of $450,000. Last week she berated a few rude Rutgers fans for dissing Penn State about Jerry Sandusky and this week she urged her staff during the season kick off to reach out and touch donors but not in a Sandusky way. Is that a variation of the pot calling the kettle black?