Over the past few years, there has been a virtual epidemic of fraudulent manuscripts published and then retracted. This has occurred even in the most elite of scientific and medical journals. Most recently, the journal Science retracted a study of the effect of political canvassing on voters’ perceptions of same-sex marriage when attempts to reproduce the data failed and data fabrication was suspected. Ironically, as the paper was approaching publication, Dr. Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of Science was convening a panel of more than 30 scientists to compose a list of guidelines in an attempt to restore integrity to the realm of scientific investigation and publication. The guidelines were finalized and published in the June 26, 2015 issue of Science1. According to a subsequent article in the New York Times2 , “the new guidelines called TOP (Transparency and Openness Promotion) represent the first attempt to lay out a system that can be applied by journals across diverse fields.” These guidelines have been endorsed by over 100 journals and 31 scientific organizations. The various parties have not yet determined how to implement them.
We must ask ourselves, in light of guidelines like those drafted by Dr. McNutt, some difficult questions. Is it the “publish or perish” ethos that drives researchers to do things like falsify results, change the titles, change order of authors and change minor aspects of a manuscript in order to re-submit it to another journal? Perhaps there are too many journals, especially with the barrage of new online publications that may serve as forums for mediocre or recycled papers that contribute little to expand human knowledge. Chopping up research studies into LPUs or “least publishable units” seems to be common practice. It is incumbent on each of us to hold ourselves and our colleagues to the highest standards in the conduct of our research.
1. Nosek BA. Alter G, Banks GC et al. Promoting an open research culture. Science 2015; 348 (6242): 1422-1425.2. Carey B. Top journal puts out comprehensive guidelines for publication of scientific studies. New York Times, June 25, 2015, p. A15.
Article by Nina Davis on behalf of the Publications and Communications Committee