Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Science and scientific misconduct

I have been irritated at the journal Science for some time, mostly because they make it so hard to access material on-line. For example, the retraction of the Hwang stem-cell paper is apparently not available to non-subscribers.

I am also perrenially irritated at the reluctance of the scientific enterprise to weed out fraud and sloppy practices. As someone with experience (4 years getting a Ph.D. and 2 years doing research as a fellow) I can tell you there is a lot out there that no one can replicate, it is just lower profile than stem cells. And here I am NOT talking about labs I worked in but papers you'd cite just to have someone tell you that despite there being no correction and no contrary data in the literature the results were widely known to be wrong. Of course some of this was not fraud or dishonesty at all but due to sloppiness or bad interpretatin of date, etc., that is honest error. Still, I found the world of molecular biology to be far less rigorous and much poorer at error correction that it should be.

These two sources of irritation have now intersected in the stem cell mess:
At another press briefing this afternoon in Washington, D.C., Science editor Donald Kennedy said that in their phone call, Hwang and Schatten told editors that the data in three areas--cell surface marking, DNA fingerprinting, and teratoma formation--"could not be trusted." But even though the paper contains errors that were known at the time of submission, Kennedy said there is not at present evidence to conclude scientific misconduct.
If knowingly submistting fake data isn't scientific misconduct what exactly is?

UPDATE: well, the retraction, such that is is, along with the original paper is here, so Science is innocent of the charge above. But the correction issued in November regarding faulty data in one table is only available to subscribers. You'd think Science would see the benefit in getting all the data out in the public domain to encourage discussion, etc. but I guess not

UPUPDATE: more about Science in the eye of the storm here


At 2:35 PM, Blogger pluripotentate said...

(sheep cloner) ian wilmut and a bunch of other famous scientists wrote a letter scolding the media for getting involved in this hwang mess. terrible decision. certainly the e! channel has no business interpreting scientific data and reporting half-understood figures as the latest scandal. but shutting out journalists with a science background makes all science seem like it's a private club, possibly with some very unsavory rituals.


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