Friday, November 15, 2013

A follow-up to the previous post regarding "hooey" in the scientific literature

I was talking to a prominent, accomplished biochemist at my institution about a possible collaboration. I mentioned a key paper supporting the scientific premise, and she asked me where it was published. When I gave her the name of the solid but non-prestige journal where it appeared, she said something along the lines of: "Oh good, it wasn't in Cell. That means its not a bunch of hooey." My paraphrasing is accurate, but the only word I distinctly remember is "hooey."  Hence, the title of this follow-up to the immediately preceding post.

A surprisingly huge amount of BS ends up in the scientific literature. Many of the reasons for this are well-known and fairly obvious: for example, intense pressures to publish, difficulties publishing negative results, and academic and grant review committees that simply count numbers of papers published rather than assess content and contribution. Given the competition and politics involved in publishing in the very highest prestige journals (such as Cell), is it any wonder that misrepresentation and outright fraud is even more prevalent in these periodicals? Leaders in the field are urging us to stop paying attention to measurements of journal prestige and focus more on the content of what is published: basically, to stop the games surrounding publishing in Cell, Science, etc.  This is highly commendable. But it is going to be hard to change this attribute of biomedical scientific culture.

In any case, yet more articles have come out accurately reporting on what is becoming less our dirty little secret and more our public scandal.  Yet another article.  And a video discussion.

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