Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wikipedia on Scientific Misconduct (2)

Wikipedia on Scientific Misconduct:
Consequences for science

The consequences of scientific fraud vary based on the severity of the fraud, the level of notice it receives, and how long it goes undetected. For cases of fabricated evidence, the consequences can be wide ranging, with others working to confirm (or refute) the false finding, or with research agendas being distorted to address the fraudulent evidence. The Piltdown Man fraud is a case in point: The significance of the bona-fide fossils' being found was muted for decades because they disagreed with Piltdown Man and the pre-conceived notions that those faked fossils supported. In addition, the prominent paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward spent time at Piltdown each year until he died trying to find more Piltdown Man remains. The misdirection of resources kept others from taking the real fossils more seriously and delayed the reaching of a correct understanding of human evolution. (The Taung Child, which should have been the death knell for the view that the human brain evolved first, was instead treated very critically because of its disagreement with the Piltdown Man evidence.)

In the case of Dr Alfred Steinschneider, two decades and tens of millions of research dollars were lost trying to find the elusive link between infant sleep apnea, that Steinschneider said he had observed and recorded in his laboratory and claimed was a precursor of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The cover was blown in 1994, 22 years after Steinschneider's 1972 Pediatrics paper claiming such an association, when Waneta Hoyt, the mother of the patients in the paper, was arrested, indicted and convicted on 5 counts of second degree manslaughter for the smothering deaths of her five children. While that in itself was bad enough, the paper, presumably written as an attempt in trying to save infants' lives, ironically was ultimately used as a defense in cases where parents were suspected in multiple deaths of their own children in cases of Münchausen syndrome by proxy. The 1972 Pediatrics' paper was cited by 404 papers in the interim and is still listed on Pubmed without comment.

Consequences for those who expose misconduct

The potentially severe consequences for individuals who are found to have engaged in misconduct also reflect on the institutions that host or employ them and also on the participants in any peer review process that has allowed the publication of questionable research. This means that a range of actors in any case may have a motivation to suppress any evidence or suggestion of misconduct. Persons who expose such cases, commonly called whistleblowers, can find themselves open to retaliation by a number of different means. These negative consequences for exposers of misconduct have driven the development of whistle blowers charters - designed to protect those who raise concerns. A whistleblower is almost always alone in his fight - his career becomes completely dependent on the decision about alleged misconduct. If the accusations prove false, his career is completely destroyed, but even in case of positive decision the career of the whistleblower can be under question: his reputation of "troublemaker" will prevent many employers from hiring him. There is no international body where a whistleblower could give his concerns. If a university fails to investigate suspected fraud or provides a fake investigation to save their reputation the whistleblower has no right of appeal. High profile journals like Nature and Science usually forward all allegations to the university where the authors are employed, or may do nothing at all.

Exposure of falsified data

With the advancement of the internet, there are now several tools available to aid in the detection of plagiarism and multiple publication within biomedical literature. One tool developed in 2006 by researchers in Dr. Harold Garner's laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas is Déjà Vu, an open-access database containing several thousand instances of duplicate publication. All of the entries in the database were discovered through the use of text data mining algorithm eTBLAST, also created in Dr. Garner's laboratory. The creation of Déjà Vu and the subsequent classification of several hundred articles contained therein have ignited much discussion in the scientific community concerning issues such as ethical behavior, journal standards, and intellectual copyright. Studies on this database have been published in journals such as Nature and Science, among others.

Other tools which may be used to detect falsified data include error analysis. Measurements generally have a small amount of error, and repeated measurements of the same item will generally result in slight differences in readings. These differences can be analyzed, and follow certain known mathematical and statistical properties. Should a set of data appear to be too faithful to the hypothesis, i.e., the amount of error that would normally be in such measurements does not appear, a conclusion can be drawn that the data may have been forged. Error analysis alone is typically not sufficient to prove that data have been falsified, but it may provide the supporting evidence necessary to confirm suspicions of misconduct.

Data sharing

Kirby Lee and Lisa Bero suggest, "Although reviewing raw data can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive, having such a policy would hold authors more accountable for the accuracy of their data and potentially reduce scientific fraud or misconduct."

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