Wednesday, August 1

More misconduct in science

While following the Tour de France this year, I did notice one or two cycling supporters questioning whether the high level of scandal was because cycling was particularly drug-ridden, or because most sports had become particularly drug-ridden but cycling was finding more of theirs, so didn't deserve the reputation for being particularly dirty.

I sometimes fear that science could get the same reputation in some sections of the media, particularly since there are people out there who would like to discredit science in general so they can get their way.

So seeing another retraction of an article in Science last week was disappointing. This time the guilty party is is a former University of Missouri-Columbia researcher, Kaushik Deb, who has been found by his employers of intentionally falsifying and fabricating digital images in a paper. Deb has since disappeared from view, leaving his co-authors to apologise profusely for trusting him in the first place.

I have to ask myself if I could be similarly fooled given a sufficiently irresponsible co-author, and I have to admit the answer would probably be yes - if they presented data coming from a technique outside my experience, I may well not be able to tell if the data was genuine or had been fudged. Am I expected to demand the raw data? Would I be able to tell that this was the original raw data, and hadn't been reverse engineered?

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