A week ago, I took someone who has normally been a hero of mine, Brian Deer, to task for what I considered to be a seriously cheap shot at scientists based on no hard data, at least no hard data that he bothered to present. To make a long, Orac-ian magnum opus short, Deer advocated increased governmental regulation of science in the U.K. based apparently on anecdotes like that of Andrew Wakefield. Worse, rather than presenting even the limited data that exist regarding the prevalence of scientific fraud, he chose instead to devote too much of his limited word count to characterizing scientists as “screeching” and likening their “silence” on the issue to that of the Roman Catholic Church over pedophile priests. Not cool.
I hadn’t planned on writing about this again for a while, but then I saw a couple of posts and articles that might bear on the issue. First, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Mistakes in Scientific Studies Surge. In addition, Derek Lowe weighed in, as did Pharmalot. Let’s take a look at the WSJ paper first:
Since 2001, while the number of papers published in research journals has risen 44%, the number retracted has leapt more than 15-fold, data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by Thomson Reuters reveal.
Just 22 retraction notices appeared in 2001, but 139 in 2006 and 339 last year. Through seven months of this year, there have been 210, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science, an index of 11,600 peer-reviewed journals world-wide.
In a sign of the times, a blog called “Retraction Watch” has popped up to monitor the flow.
Science is based on trust, and most researchers accept findings published in peer-reviewed journals. The studies spur others to embark on related avenues of research, so if one paper is later found to be tainted, an entire edifice of work comes into doubt. Millions of dollars’ worth of private and government funding may go to waste, and, in the case of medical science, patients can be put at risk.
The WSJ article has several graphs and some analysis designed to try to argue that the rise in retractions is real and that it’s not just because of the increase in papers published in scientific research journals. For instance, as noted above, the number of papers has increased less than 50% since 2001, but the number of retractions has climbed 15-fold. In considering data like this, there are two questions to consider:
- Is the incidence of scientific fraud truly increasing, or is this primarily due to better policing?
- Is the number of retracted papers a good gauge of the prevalence of scientific misconduct?
The first question is probably the easier of the two to answer in that we can at least look at numbers. The problem is that the answer to the first question depends a lot on the answer to the second. The problem, of course, is that papers can be retracted for a variety of reasons, most of which don’t have anything to do with fraud. For instance, there is this study, which found that 73% of retracted papers are retracted for reasons of error or an undisclosed reason. A common story in undisclosed reasons is that another investigator couldn’t reproduce the results, leading the original investigators to try to reproduce their results again, at which point they find they can’t. Whatever the reasons covering the 73% of papers retracted for error or undisclosed reasons, however, the remainder, approximately 27%, were retracted for fraud. Interesting trends noted in this paper included that total retractions have increased sharply but that retractions specifically for fraud have also increased. This graph tells the story in that it indicates that the number of retractions per 100,000 published papers is rising. On the other hand, even though the number has increased several-fold, it’s hard not to note that the current number of retractions over the last three or four years ranges from 30-35 retractions per 100,000 scientific papers. That’s 0.035% of scientific papers. Certainly, the sharp increase in retractions is a reason to be concerned, but even today the number is quite low.
Also telling the story are a series of graphs in the WSJ paper. Of note, the vast majority of retractions are in medicine, biology, and chemistry. One reason for this could be that these sciences tend to impact most on health, medicine, and materials science, meaning that the stakes tend to be higher. That’s not to say that the stakes aren’t high in other sciences, but in medicine and materials science, there is also more than the incentive of fame and respect; there are real financial rewards added to the prestige, potential grants, and fame. As the WSJ article notes:
Why the backpedaling on more and more scientific research? Some scientific journals argue that the increase could indicate the journals have become better at detecting errors. They point to how software has made it easier to uncover plagiarism.
Others claim to find the cause in a more competitive landscape, both for the growing numbers of working scientific researchers who want to publish to advance their careers, and for research journals themselves.
“The stakes are so high,” said the Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton. “A single paper in Lancet and you get your chair and you get your money. It’s your passport to success.”
While this is true, I’m not sure whether it’s any more true today than it was 10 years ago. Science has always been competitive, and getting published in high profile journals like The Lancet, Nature, Science, Cell, and the like has always had the potential to make an investigator’s career. Also, in the WSJ article itself, it looks as though the very top tier journals, such as Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine, haven’t had a significant increase in retractions. In fact, it looks as though the journals on the next tier down (still high ranking journals but just not top tier) are the ones having the problem. On the other hand, over the last five years, in the U.S. at least, the funding situation has deteriorated to the point where it hasn’t been this difficult to obtain N.I.H. funding in 20 years. Indeed, it’s become two to three times harder to earn a grant than it was just five or six years ago, to the point where at the National Cancer institute, the pay lines are around 7% right now. In such an environment, the pressure to get that high impact publication might well be considerably higher than it was ten years ago.
There’s another factor to be considered as well, and that’s the proliferation of journals produces competition to publish the most groundbreaking science, science that will get the journal noticed and encourage the heavy hitters in the field to submit papers to it. Horton, whose survival as editor of The Lancet after his behavior in the wake of the Wakefield scandal still puzzles me and whose being cited as some sort of oracle about scientific fraud puzzles me even more, given his demonstrated rank incompetence in dealing with it, dismisses this as a likely explanation:
The Lancet’s Dr. Horton dismisses that notion. He says journals hit by fraud and error are becoming more conservative about publishing provocative research. But he also says journals and research institutions don’t have adequate systems in place to properly investigate misconduct.
The apparent rise in scientific fraud, said Dr. Horton “is a scar on the moral body of science.”
So what is going on? In summary, it is apparent that retractions are on the rise, and that they are on the rise for scientific fraud as well as error. The numbers appear to be quite clear on that. The question, however, is what this means. Is it because the incidence of scientific fraud is increasing, because the scientific community is getting better at catching scientific fraud, or a combination of both? Although I don’t have much hard data to back it up, I’d say that it’s probably both. Policing is definitely better, as there is now software that allows the detection of some of the lazier sorts of scientific misconduct, such as plagiarism or image manipulation–even data fabrication, such as detecting when non-random clustering of data that should be randomly distributed about a mean. However, it also wouldn’t surprise me if scientific misconduct in the form of research fraud is also on the rise, although this is a much harder conclusion to solidify because we don’t have a firm grasp of how common research misconduct was before; i.e., we don’t have a baseline to compare to. One reason is that surveillance for scientific fraud was much laxer, which means that the much lower retraction numbers from ten years ago and before might be due more to not bothering to look hard enough than to a real, lower rate of scientific misconduct. Even so, one thing that is clear is that, even given the rise in retractions, the overall number still appears to be very low compared to the hundreds of thousands of scientific papers published every year, again roughly 0.035%.
The final question is whether the number of retracted papers is a good surrogate for the prevalence of scientific fraud. Certainly, at best it’s a very crude measure. Also, it tends to catch a specific kind of fraud, specifically fraud that is occurring in science that’s interesting enough for other investigators to try to replicate it. Seemingly unimportant or uninteresting results are likely never to be found out because no one will bother to check them. Of course, interesting and important research tends to be where the most incentive is for fraud, given that it has the most potential to bring fame, glory, and, above all, grant money to the person committing it; so it could be argued that this is exactly the sort of fraud that we as scientists and physicians most want most to catch.
Whatever the true prevalence of scientific fraud, perhaps the two most disturbing pieces of information are that (1) the time between publication and retraction appears to be increasing, and (2) more importantly journals often fail to alert the naÃ¯ve reader to a retraction. Indeed, this latter observation is disturbing indeed; as this study reports, 31.8% of retracted papers are not noted as retracted in any way. Clearly, we as a scientific community need to do better. Fraud, once detected, needs to lead to real consequences, beginning with retraction of the involved papers, but most importantly it needs to be absolutely clear what papers have been retracted, so that an unwary investigator doesn’t inadvertently take a retracted paper as being a useful basis for further research.
Overall, it would appear that we are doing a better job at detecting fraud. It would also appear that the prevalence of fraud, at least as measured by retractions of journal articles, remains low, which makes me wonder about all this press about this somehow being a “crisis.” Unfortunately, that being said, there is also clearly considerable room for improvement, particularly in detecting scientific fraud.
38 replies on “Scientific fraud and journal article retractions”
Kind of curious that the WSJ would talk about error and fraud in science publishing and not mention error and fraud in economic publishing such as the WSJ. The WSJ has been pushing spectacularly and demonstrably wrong ideas about economics for a long time, and still is.
Where is the inflation that the WSJ has been predicting for years? If US sovereign debt is so risky, why is the cost of it at historic lows? Why did the price of US treasuries drop after the S&P downgrade?
What about the fraud the global warming denialists are putting out?
This sure looks like more of the same-old anti-science agenda by the WSJ. Don’t like the conclusion the facts lead to, change the facts.
Surely this issue is amenable to study using statistical tools like 6-sigma (just like any sausage machine, science publishing has an error rate…). Plus I’m pretty sure there are already people studying this kind of thing – I just don’t know what they’re called. The guy who used to be the editor of Current Contents called himself an “information scientist”, but I don’t know if that stuck.
@daedalus2u: The Wall Street Journal is a newspaper, not a scientific journal, so different standards apply. One is that the people who write for their editorial page are free to express lunatic opinions (the WSJ editorial page has long tilted so far to the right that people know not to trust their information). Before Murdoch bought the paper, the WSJ used to do a good job of separating their news sections from the editorial content, and in fact WSJ had some of the best news reporting of any American newspaper. (This combination follows logically from considering their target market, the investor class: people who on average tend to be highly conservative but who need accurate news reporting to invest properly.) Since Murdoch bought the paper, there has been increasing evidence that the editorial viewpoint is leaking into the news coverage. This is a problem, but it’s not scientific misconduct.
OTOH, the economics profession is indeed riddled with Lamarckian charlatans. It would be politically convenient for many powerful people for certain economic propositions to be true, so those propositions are frequently taken as true, even when there is significant evidence to the contrary. Not all economists are charlatans (Krugman is one of the better practitioners in that field), but enough are to worry about the truth of anything spoken by an economist about whom you know nothing else. Similarly with global warming denialism: it would be politically convenient for the coal and oil industries if global warming were not happening, and they can afford to buy spokespeople to make such claims in the face of substantial evidence that the CO2 from fossil fuels is causing the Earth to emit less energy than it absorbs.
WSJ has a pretty shoddy record when it deals with science. They routinely publish global warming denialist canards that have been debunked umpteem times before. I wouldn’t trust any graph, any analysis, any statements from the WSJ because they’ve proven they can’t even read a paper and talk about it accurately. When it comes to science, daedalus2u’s (@1) last sentence sums up the WSJ quite accurately.
Eric @3, so you think fraud in newspapers is ok?
Newspaper reporters and editors generate fraudulent stories for the same reasons that scientists commit fraud, because it advances their careers and makes them money.
S&P rated mortgage backed securities AAA for the same reason. They were hired to generate those ratings, they made lots of money generating those ratings. That those ratings were fraudulent was only a problem for the suckers who relied on them (and for the rest of the economy, and for taxpayers when those suckers had to be bailed out).
Just because lots of economists do commit fraud, does that somehow make fraud by economists less of a problem? Economic fraud costs many orders of magnitude more than does scientific fraud. Krugman has another blog post.
About the $2.8 trillion that has been wasted due to unemployment. With interest rates at historic lows, money could be borrowed and the unemployed put to work rebuilding infrastructure, things like roads and bridges that have many decade useful lives and which are in terrible shape right now. The roads and bridges will have to be rebuilt at some time anyway. They do have a finite lifetime.
The reason the economy is tanking is not due to the federal deficit or the federal debt, interest rates on that debt are at historic lows. The economy is tanking because demand is low, and the GOP wants the economy to tank so that Obama won’t be reelected.
The slide of the WSJ into obscurity continues. This paragraph is just absolute nonsense.
1) Any scientist that bases a new hypothesis or review on a single paper isn’t doing themselves any sort of favor. This is a good way to look dumb and reduce credibility.
2) Peer-reviewed journals are not all created equally, as most here know. There are reputations and careful editing by high quality journals that far exceeds what poor journals, such as Medical Hypothesis, allow.
3) If an article does not contain a thorough literature review, or at least acknowledge other sources within the last 5-7 years, it should automatically be considered suspect. Peer reviewers know this, especially those reviewers for high quality journals.
4) An entire edifice of work is cast into doubt by a single retraction? This is pretty easy to check, go look at any retracted article and then search for all articles that have cited that retracted article. You could even do a small script to do a recursive search (3rd sources are known as unreliable, so expect a recursive search to only show a small increase in total articles).
I doubt the WSJ was aware of any of that, nor did they investigate #4 thoroughly. This is just another indication that the WSJ is little more than fishwrap now that Murdoch is running it.
Maybe the rate of change doesn’t matter to me that much. I just see that there is a problem, and I want to talk about what to do about it. Again, I am specifically familiar with dubious work in biomarker discovery or other applications of massively parallel assays of DNA, RNA, or protein.
Two of my heroes(Coombes, Baggerly), from about a month ago, in the mainstream press, stemming from Potti “scandal”:
Darrel Ince had some interesting things to say about it, and a link to an amusing story of Rick Trebino, where it was almost impossible to say when something is wrong:
There’s quite a bit of stuff coming from IOM’s “Review of Omics-Based Tests for Predicting Patient Outcomes in Clinical Trials”. Hours of video available.
That edifice crumbling comment makes me wonder if the author isn’t a climate change denier.
There have been similar arguments on Radley Balko’s site in the comments re: crime scene investigative labs. He advocates using competing labs to check each other’s work and the labs using the best techniques, more blind analysis etc, would win out since they’d have reproducible results, but others advocate more government control and regulation of procedures.
Your analysis of the numbers deserves a retraction. You lump “undisclosed reasons” with “non-fraudulent error”, but that is not justified, since the undisclosed reasons could (and probably often do) include fraud or suspected fraud.
I think this brings up a good point that responsible reporting shouldn’t lead with percentages or “X-fold” values. They’re too vague. Without the base numbers, and methods used to arrive at the percentages, all of those values are subjective and essentially meaningless. Sure, the number of papers only went up 44%, but that’s still many thousands of papers. While at the same time, 15-fold (or original value plus 1400%) only amounts to something like a few hundred papers. Without the absolute values of papers published and retracted we have no realistic understanding of the values in comparison to each other.
Does the article (behind paywall) give the numbers for each year since 2001? There should be a hefty spike in 2002 when the equivalent of a full issue of a journal got retracted…
You may wish to try this thing called ‘reading for comprehension’.
The paper that Orac cites is the document that lumps 73% of retracted papers in a category of errors and undisclosed reasons, not Orac himself.
As for your suggestion that the undisclosed reasons could include fraud: so what? Without evidence either way, who are you or I to say which papers retracted for undisclosed reasons were or weren’t fraudulent?
… and I should have included at the end of my last comment the remark that on the basis of my two objections I saw very little reason for Lou to snarkily suggest Orac’s analysis itself required retraction.
Eric @3, so you think fraud in newspapers is ok?
No, I never said that. What I did say is that the standard for newspapers is different, and that the standards for news stories and editorials are different.
An editorial is explicitly an opinion piece. Unless it is so egregious to rise to the level of being defamatory (a standard which is difficult to impossible for a plaintiff, particularly a public figure, to prove in US courts), there isn’t anything you or I can do about it other than to ignore it. Which is what most sensible people have done for years with the WSJ editorial page. A cost of having freedom of speech is that people can express incorrect opinions.
The problem of media owners’ opinions slanting news coverage is a separate issue, one which is by no means limited to the WSJ (as I pointed out, the WSJ’s previous owners were better than other US media owners about keeping the news and editorial coverage separate, because the business model of a paper like the WSJ depends on maintaining that separation–the subscribers could choose to read the Financial Times instead). But that is not the topic of Orac’s post. It is also, like misleading editorials and unlike retracted scientific papers, not actionable in the US except in the most egregious cases. Most of the time, the best you can hope for if there is a demonstrable error in the story is a correction on page A15 to the front-page story. You can choose to get your information from other sources (if you can find more reliable sources–this would exclude most major newspapers and TV networks in the US), but voting with your wallet is all you can do.
Here’s my theory: Cranks and denialists need a media outlet for their pseudoscience. Outlets like the WSJ are happy to provide it because it sells, but need scientific publications to legitimize what they report. Therefore, the cranks and denialists are submitting bad science at an alarming and increasing rate. Despite the best efforts of the scientific literature, some of the pseudoscience leaks through and needs to be mopped up after the fact. So the WSJ is the source of the problem and gets the added benefit of reporting the problem that they created in the first place!
Composer99 (#13, 14), thank you for the lesson in reading comprehension. You are right, the numbers came from a paper he was citing, but he did use them in his analysis of the situation. And as you say, of course we don’t know what fraction of the “undisclosed reasons” might be related to fraud, but that was my point too, and that is why it is wrong (at least in the context of this discussion of the prevalence of fraud) to simply lump them with the non-fraud cases.
Just a thought about this rise in bad-quality articles: Could it be linked to a decline of the review process itself?
My first paper, about 12 years ago, in a low-impact journal, had 3 reviewers to eviscerate it. An article published this year in a high-impact journal only had one reviewer (the editor apologized he cannot find anyone else), and one with little time to spare if the writing quality of his review is any indication.
OK, so n=1, slightly different fields then and now, but still, from that colleagues told me, there is an ongoing shortage of reviewers in biology/chemistry fields (and maybe elsewhere as well).
Could it be a factor? Less reviewers per paper, more published articles later found wanting and retracted?
Orac linked us to an article appearing in the BMJ-Journal of Medical Ethics (December 24, 2010) regarding an analysis of the retractions of articles cited in PubMed.
There is a newer article (April 12, 2011) appearing in the BMJ- Journal of Medical Ethics that analyzed the retractions of articles cited in MEDLINE (the largest of the databases used by PubMed), which may provide some additional information about the numbers (percentages) and reasons for retractions:
Why and how do journals retract articles?: An analysis of Medline retractions (1988-2008)
Background Journal editors are responsible for what they publish and therefore have a duty to correct the record if published work is found to be unreliable. One method for such correction is retraction of an article. Anecdotal evidence suggested a lack of consistency in journal policies and practices regarding retraction. In order to develop guidelines, we reviewed retractions in Medline to discover how and why articles were retracted.
Methods We retrieved all available Medline retractions from 2005 to 2008 and a one-in-three random selection of those from 1988 to 2004. This yielded 312 retractions (from a total of 870). Details of the retraction including the reason for retraction were recorded by two investigators.
Results Medline retractions have increased sharply since 1980 and currently represent 0.02% of included articles. Retractions were issued by authors (63%), editors (21%), journals (6%), publishers (2%) and institutions (1%). Reasons for retraction included honest error or non-replicable findings (40%), research misconduct (28%), redundant publication (17%) and unstated/unclear (5%). Some of the stated reasons might have been addressed by corrections.
Conclusions Journals’ retraction practices are not uniform. Some retractions fail to state the reason, and therefore fail to distinguish error from misconduct. We have used our findings to inform guidelines on retractions.
* Retraction of publication
* editorial policies
* journal article
* scientific misconduct
* scientific research
(Apologies, for the complete abstract “cut and paste”…I still don’t know how to link)
I too am concerned about the WSJ article… IMO, it seems just as unseemly as if the JAMA or the NEJM publish articles about the housing bubble/mortgage crisis, the Federal Reserve or Bernie Madoff.
daedalus2u, what you’re describing is not fraud- it’s economic ideas you disagree with. Economics is a VERY soft science- I’m reluctant to speak of denialism in economics.
Do you mean that many economists support theories that are the economic equivalent of the original Lamarckian theory, or that many economists are charlatan like Lamarck? Because as far as I know, Lamarck wasn’t a charlatan, he was simply wrong.
Mathew Clien to Eric Lund
I think Lysenko would be a better comparison. Lysenko made a career of telling Stalin what he wanted to here and of always being first with a solution even though it was always wrong.
Orac makes the important point that journals often fail adequately to inform their readers about retractions. In my field (chemistry) you often find out by accident (when you open a paper that has “retracted” written on the manuscript pdf), by word of mouth, or if the retraction attracts enough interest that the paper in question makes its way onto the ‘Most Read’ list some journals have.
There is a blog that attempts to track article retractions (http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/), but I think in the end it shouldn’t be up to individual bloggers (and I’m not sure they can do a comprehensive job anyway). There should be a rethink and informing the readers about retractions should become part of good ethical practice in publishing.
Look at what has NOT been retracted:
And please don’t miss http://www.universitytorontofraud.com/committee.htm
I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is, apart from a higher index of suspicion among reviewers of submitted articles and more stringent penalties imposed on those researchers involved in fraud.
The WSJ didn’t mention this, so I wonder – what’s the retraction rate for articles published in woo-friendly journals? I’ll bet it’s somewhere between extremely low and nonexistent. This would demonstrate that 1) woo researchers are far more ethical than their evidence-based counterparts, or 2) no one bothers to look for errors in woo journals since the stakes are so low, or 3) there’s no incentive to replicate a study since even a poor one serves well for marketing purposes, or 4) retraction is a foreign concept in the world of woo, where therapies, no matter how ineffective and farcical are utilized indefinitely in deference to tradition and testimonials.
Probably it’s some combination of #s 2-4.
@ Dangerous Bacon:
IIRC, retractions ( e.g. Duesberg et al) might have had something to do with changes at “Miserable Hypotheses”- sorry, I mean *Medical* Hypotheses ( see Orac 3/11/10).
That *seven per cent* figure above ( down from 15-20%, I believe) is really startling. I hate to be the one to point out ( but I will anyway) that our current economic situation doesn’t bode well for future improvements.If anything, I expect worse.
And according to my ex-pat business wonk friends, we aren’t the only ones ( UK and Ireland are respectively, “awful” and “glad I don’t live there anymore”).
@20: That would be true if the matters on which marginalist economists are consistently and demonstrably wrong (i.e. virtually every policy issue of any importance in the last thirty years) were novel and surprising developments.
They are not. The current â¬-zone crisis, for instance, is pretty much just a slow-motion replay of the 1993 ERM breakup, and occurring for precisely the same reason: The Bundesbank wants somebody who is not the BuBa to pay for maintaining the BuBa’s currency policy. A lot of the memos from the 1993 dissolution are in the public record, and the BuBa appears to be following precisely the same playbook this time. Yet a lot of Very Serious Economists will tell you that this is a problem with [the internal current accounts deficit â¬-zone country being Soros attacked this week] spending too much and needing to toss some (more) virgins into the volcano to appease the bond market god.
So either these economists who say things that are laughably, obviously, empirically wrong (and in many cases even contrary to the rules of mathematics and national accounting) either (a) don’t know what they are talking about and have not been paying attention for the last twenty years, or (b) do know what they are talking about and are deliberately lying to the public and to policymakers.
In the former case, they are charlatans for claiming expertise that they do not, in fact, possess. In the latter, they are charlatans who peddle snake oil policies for petty partisan gain.
@ Jake S: as though being “contrary to the rules of mathematics and national accounting” ever stopped anybody! If only!
Here’s someone worse than Madoff. Read then forward this link to everyone you know, so they don’t get scammed: http://texsquixtarblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/who-is-worse-bernie-madoff-or-rich.html
Ummm… Tex, not only is that off topic, but “forward this link to everyone you know” is a sign of a scam.
Ummmm…yes, Quixtar / Amway is a scam, perhaps you should go post over at the MLM Survivor’s forum – you’ll get a better response.
@ Tex: I visited your blog…and no I will not be passing it on; just like I don’t “pass on” photo-shopped/photo-cropped pictures of President Obama that purport to show him not saluting the flag or saluting with his left hand.
You, on the hand don’t seem to understand what an analogy is:
“I too am concerned about the WSJ article… IMO, it seems just as unseemly as if the JAMA or the NEJM publish articles about the housing bubble/mortgage crisis, the Federal Reserve or Bernie Madoff.”
Or, perhaps you do and used the opportunity to substitute Madoff for Amway…as an opportunity to promote your blog which is devoted solely to your hatred of Amway.
I’m not a psychiatrist, but may I venture a guess about your “fixation”? I suspect you are upset that you didn’t get involved in the Amway MLM business model at the ground floor/top of the pyramid level…but instead invested your money at the bottom of pyramid…with the hope of scoring big time financially. I put that in the category of “tough luck” and bad business acumen.
lilady – there are tens of thousands of people who have been negatively effected by the MLM Scam industry. In the case of Tex, it is the right message, in the wrong forum.
This ‘science riddled with fraud’ line is something that will be pushed hard by various entities interested in escaping science-based regulation and science-based lawsuits. But I think retractions are interesting. Perhaps a journal for retracted articles (searchable, etc) would be very, very useful. We could see what science thought useful and then changed its mind. Short abstracts could accompany each one (written by the original authors, if they chose) regarding what they tried to do and why it didn’t work. I am eager to read Wegman’s papers there.
I wonder if the quality of peer review in scientific journals is declining. At least based on the articles we picked for journal club, it seemed that certain flaws were rather common:
* Improper statistical analysis, such as multiple comparisons with significance tests that didn’t take that into account;
* Conclusions drawn from statistics/charts that were contrary to what was shown in the figure, such as saying there is a trend when it doesn’t exist;
* Missing control groups or other sleight of hand with controls; and
* Procedural errors that would invalidate the results, such as improper sample handling.
In other words, we’re talking about things that would drop your grade substantially on a college lab report, and any peer reviewer worth their salt should detect. (The grammar and spelling are often pretty bad, too; doesn’t anyone in this process have someone with decent English proofread papers?)
Are the reviewers too rushed to read papers thoroughly, or what?
But wait… aren’t some of these supposedly peer reviewed journals just fronts for vanity press or someone to back the author’s position ? Hasn’t it been brought out that heretofore “prestigious” Elsevier journals have published what amounts to vanity press or even outright PR material for various interests ?
Fraud needs to lead to real punishments, not “consequences”.
My sense is that the increase in numbers is due to more careful looking, and part of that is due to the lack of research grants, so more people are looking harder at what has been successful, and they find errors and fraud.
But I also wonder if the rise isn’t driven in part by creationists trying to establish a record of publication, and warming “skeptics” who make claims that ultimately are in error.
Off the top of my head, I don’t think that’s a lot of papers . . . but does anyone have a count?