Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Research misconduct: continuing concerns, and the great wall of silence

As perhaps a sign of the increasing global concern about what appears to be an epidemic of misconduct among the scientific community, the New York Times has published an article titled "A Sharp Rise in Retractions Prompts Calls for Reform" by Carl Zimmer.

In it, Dr Ferric Fang, Editor in Chief of the journal Infection and Immunity is quoted as saying  "Nobody had noticed the whole thing was rotten."

The article further reports that "Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it."

Should Singapore be concerned? The answer is an obvious "Yes!"

Yet there is this great wall of silence, as if no one wants to talk about it or publicly deal with the problem, potential or real. Alirio Melendez's publications have been under investigation for too long with any resolution. But not only Melendez, a number of other big and not so big names have been flagged out by blogs such as Abnormal Science. In these there are allegations of self plagiarism, image manipulations, data mislabelling etc. Yet there has to date, been no public acknowledgement of these problems, exoneration or evidence of any actions taken. Sadly silence just serves to condone such practices.

I think we owe it to our students and future generations of scientists to deal promptly, impartially and publicly with these problems.


Anonymous said...

As a PhD student, it really scares me to read the recent retractions. Seems that the problem is really alot more rampant than we would like to think, especially when high flying research guys publishing in top journals are involved. Worst still is when suspects are none other than the whales in Singapore, despite our reputation for being clean and uncorrupt. Creates added burden and uncertainty for everyone in the research community as to how much we can rely and build on the work done by others.

gigamole said...

... which is precisely why it is so important for universities and research centres in Singapore, to move swiftly and impartially to nip this problem in the bud. It should be made very clear that the environment here will not tolerate bad research practices. Regardless of the reputations of those involved.

Anonymous said...

This is certainly a general sentiments felt by the academics in Singapore. I wish your ariticle reache more people and generates more publicity. But most people do not read blogs.

gigamole said...

Please feel free to forward the blog to any of your colleagues who may be interested. The purpose of this blod is to extent give voice to some of the issues that don't get voiced adequately. Or get swept under the carpet.

Anonymous said... is another place to go through for scientific misconduct. The names one can see on Abnormal Science especially from Singapore are still getting millions of dollars in grant money - Sethi, Pervaiz, Lam, Halliwell, Moore, name a few..

gigamole said...

While these names have appeared in the Abnormal Science blog, it should be pointed out that no wrongdoing has been proven. Gigamole believes that NUS should do the investigations and promptly clear these staff of any wrong doing.... or take corrective action. Silence would indeed seem like consent.