New Episodes Of Scientists Behaving Badly

Scandals just keep pouring from the laboratories

by Eric Felten
The Wall Street Journal
February 4, 2010

This has not been the proudest of weeks for science. Twelve years after publishing an article purporting to prove a link between childhood vaccines and autism, the prominent British medical journal Lancet finally retracted the paper in its entirety. But only after Britain’s General Medical Council found that the author of that article had been “irresponsible and dishonest” in his research, bringing medical science “into disrepute.”

That wasn’t the only controversy involving scholarly journals and the repute of researchers to flare up this week. Also in Britain, two prominent stem-cell researchers went to the BBC with their complaint that the peer review system has become corrupt. Flawed and unoriginal work gets published and promoted, while publication of truly original findings is often delayed or rejected, according to Austin Smith of Cambridge University and Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research.

Why would that happen? To sabotage one’s academic competitors, Prof. Smith said. For example, the scientists judging a paper submitted to a journal may be working on similar work themselves, he told the BBC, and can publish their work first if they succeed in hobbling the competition. “It’s hard to believe, except you know it’s happened to you that papers have been held up for months and months by reviewers asking for experiments that are not fair or relevant.”

Those who have followed the tawdry “Climategate” spectacle won’t find such allegations all that hard to believe. The more journalists dig into the internal emails of top climate scientists—communications hacked and made public last year—the more examples of manipulation of scholarly journals they find. Just this week, the Guardian newspaper noted that Prof. Phil Jones, then head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, bragged about scuttling the work of scientists who might have called his own work into question. “Recently rejected two papers [submitted to scholarly journals] from people saying CRU has it wrong,” Prof. Jones crowed to another prominent global-warmist, Prof. Michael Mann. “Went to town in both reviews, hopefully successfully. ” Prof. Jones and his defenders have suggested that anyone shocked by such machinations is naive about the ways of science. That’s not exactly the most reassuring of assertions.

Not all such news comes from Britain, of course.

The article continues at WSJ.

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