sk podcastIn this episode, host Stewart Wills talks with Charlotte Haug, the vice-chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), about the recent World Conference on Research Integrity, new community guidelines on research transparency and reproducibility, the international dimension of research ethics, and the dangers of sensationalizing retractions.


Download MP3 of this episode

Download PDF transcript of this episode


Scholarly Kitchen podcast on iTunes

Scholarly Kitchen podcast RSS feed


9 Thoughts on "Scholarly Kitchen Podcast: Talking Publication Ethics"

Nice post, but I’m afraid this probably won’t help much, either in reducing the total level of research fraud or the marginal level. Perhaps we would all be better off if we changed the incentives to commit fraud

That would be a question I would pose to all your readers. For my part, instead of “talking about ethics” or preaching to the choir, so to speak, why not start by imposing a financial penalty or tax on retractions. If researchers (and their home institutions) were personally and financially liable anytime one of their papers were retracted, perhaps we would see less fraud

But only a small portion of retractions are due to fraud. Most come from honest errors or situations where the information in a paper is deemed obsolete. If you further make retractions a black mark on a researcher’s record, and fine them and their university, you’ll instead see more and more efforts to cover up mistakes. This will increase fraud and take away a valuable tool for correcting the scientific record.

Agreed — not to mention the potential chilling effect that such a “tax” could have on interesting but potentially risky research.

Charlotte seemed quite on target to me in stressing that retractions serve an important function. Often, the impetus to retract a paper comes from the authors themselves, when a fatal error is pointed out. While we definitely want to stigmatize fraud, it’s important not to stigmatize, or penalize, the act of retraction as such.

Actually, I stand corrected (at least in the life sciences) where a study shows that the “conventional wisdom” is incorrect:

Not sure how this applies elsewhere. Still the problem exists–if we further stigmatize retractions, then we increase the pressure to hide misconduct or error. To effectively deter fraud, one must instead look to the reasons why fraud is committed, and as another commenter here mentioned, a more meaningful solution might be to address the funding and career structure of academia, to accept fewer graduate students (reducing competition and pressure) and providing alternative careers and funding for those already in the system.

Many systems of research funding have sharp cut-off points – “precipice funding.” Given the intensity of the competition, a few Bill-Gates-Type researchers are relaxed, but many would compare their research lives to stumbling along high cliffs with rocks and angry seas far below. One aspect of the funding reform – “bicameral review’ – suggested decades ago, was a sliding scale of funding aimed at thwarting this “precipice psychology,” so there would be less incentive to take short cuts.

As for COPE, it is great, but as I recently found, one should check a journal for COPE affiliation before submission. Having received formal acceptance from American Scientist, I was then told that a new editor had de-accepted it. The paper is now in-press in Biological Theory, which is produced by a COPE signatory publishing house. Thus, I would urge COPE to cluck, nay squawk, more loudly to encourage errant publishers to nestle under.

1) Not all retractions are equal. It be nice to see the good ones praised more, and the ones based on misconduct pursued more.

2) COPE seems good and useful, with helpful people, but sadly, COPE-member publishers can sometimes ignore the rules, as Wiley did in this case, where:

a) Two articles were written by co-editors-in-chief for their own journal in 2009 and 2011. In 2011, detailed allegations of pervasive plagiarism (including much from Wikipedia) were reported to Wiley.

b) Wiley later let them quietly, massively revise the of-line articles without admission of any fault.

c) Eventually, they just disappeared off masthead, without any comment= and the revised articles are still online.

Comments are closed.