Bad Science and the Writer

Of the three hundred or so stories I've posted on this blog, there have been two types of comments entered that I find reassuring -
  1. The reader disagrees with the conclusion expressed.
  2. The reader feels the report is based on bad science.
Skepticism is the basis of a healthy intellectual process, essentially saying "prove it to me."  "Has someone else conducted a similar study and come to the same conclusion(s)?" These questions are at the core of how science works - is the experiment reproducible and does it give the same result?  If not, why?

It always pleases me when readers express skepticism; it shows me that many who write fiction or nonfiction question sources and are careful about what they rely on.  If we all thought the same and accepted what we're told at face value, our work would all read the same and paint the same picture of the world, which ain't healthy for our craft or for our society.

In the opinion piece below, the author points out why it is so important to be skeptical about what we read, especially on the internet.  According to this piece, science and medicine have a 'publication pollution' problem.  Not only do surveys show that many researchers know of colleagues who fudge data in their research, there are publications that publish results only when paid to do so, and that don't vet the articles they send out.

In medicine as in research as in academia, it's "publish or perish."  To some it's more important to have as many articles listed on ones' vitae rather than to have a few reports of quality vetted research.

To the readers of this blog who sometimes question the validity of some research, good job.  The following substantiates your reaction that some research doesn't pass your smell test.  You may not know why, but your reaction is healthy, professional and makes me feel good about our profession.

For a writer looking for a story to develop, there is definitely more than one here.  Have at it, someone.

Here's the report as published:
*  *  *  *  * 
 
The scientific community is facing a
'pollution problem' in academic publishing
Authorial Ethics:
How Writers Abuse
Their Calling
by Robert Hauptman

Click on image to order

"The currency of science is fragile, and allowing counterfeiters, fraudsters, bunko artists, scammers, and cheats to continue to operate with abandon in the publishing realm is unacceptable."

The scientific community is facing a 'pollution problem' in academic publishing, one that poses a serious threat to the "trustworthiness, utility, and value of science and medicine," according to one of the country's leading medical ethicists.

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, director of the Division of Medical Ethics in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, shares these and other observations in a commentary publishing April 3 in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"The pollution of science and medicine by plagiarism, fraud, and predatory publishing is corroding the reliability of research," writes Dr. Caplan. "Yet neither the leadership nor those who rely on the truth of science and medicine are sounding the alarm loudly or moving to fix the problem with appropriate energy."

Fourteen percent of scientists report that their colleagues falsify data
In his commentary, Dr. Caplan describes several causes of publication pollution:
  • The proliferation of journals that recruit authors who pay to get their articles published. Despite having substandard or no peer view, these "predatory publishers" now comprise an estimated 25 percent of all open-access journals. "Not only do they provide opportunities for the unscrupulous in academia and industry to pad their curriculum vitaes and bibliographies with bogus articles and editorial appointments, they also make it difficult for those involved in the assessment and promotion of scholars to discern value from junk," writes Dr. Caplan.
  • Research misconduct, like falsifying or fabricating data or concealing serious violations.
    • Fourteen percent of scientists report that their colleagues falsify data, and
    • 72 percent report other questionable practices, according to one 2009 study published in PLoS One.
  • Plagiarism, which, according to a 2010 Nature article was "staggering," requiring editors to spend "inordinate amounts of time" checking submissions they receive.
According to Dr. Caplan: "All these polluting factors detract from the ability of scientists and physicians to trust what they read, devalue legitimate science, undermine the ability to reproduce legitimate findings, impose huge costs on the publication process, and take a toll in terms of disability and death when tests, treatments, and interventions are founded on faulty claims."

Dr. Caplan proposes a national meeting of leaders in science and medicine to lead a sustained challenge to proactively and aggressively go after this pollution problem.

"The currency of science is fragile, and allowing counterfeiters, fraudsters, bunko artists, scammers, and cheats to continue to operate with abandon in the publishing realm is unacceptable," he asserts.

Related stories:

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Story Source: Materials provided by NYU Langone Medical Center. Arthur L. Caplan, PhD. The Problem of Publication-Pollution Denialism. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, April 2015

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