Friday, January 4th 2013, 2:15 AM EST
Retraction Watch blog is getting known as the specialist web site getting the scoop on research papers that are often mysteriously withdrawn from international science journals. Journalists Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus started their website in August 2010 and have been building up a solid readership and an excellent reputation.
The pair have analyzed over 250 retractions in nearly 350 posts. An impressed Ben Goldacre from the Guardian notes, “Eyeballs are an excellent disinfectant: you should read Retraction Watch.” While Biologist Jim Woodgett, wrote in Nature:
"The scientific community must be diligent in highlighting abuses, develop greater transparency and accessibility for its work, police research more effectively and exemplify laudable behaviour. This includes encouraging more open debate about misconduct and malpractice, exposing our dirty laundry and welcoming external examination. A good example of this, the website Retraction Watch (retractionwatch.wordpress.com), shines light on problems with papers and, by doing so, educates and celebrates research ethics and good practice. Peer pressure is a powerful tool — but only if peers are aware of infractions and bad practice."
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The latest story from Oransky and Marcus is 'Publisher error leads to retraction, then reinstatement, in agriculture journal' and puts the spotlight on an odd good news/bad news tale from the pages of Industrial Crops and Products. Retraction Watch writes:
The journal is reinstating a 2011 paper it mistakenly retracted. But, it’s retracting another article from the same author, who tried to grow two peas in the same pod (or something like that). According to the retraction notice:
"Please note that at the request of the author the following journal article has been retracted: Periodic variation in kernel oil content and fatty acid proﬁles of Calophyllum inophyllum L.: A medicinal plant in northern Australia, Volume 33, Issue 3, May 2011, Pages 775–778
Due to an error by the publisher the following article was inadvertently retracted:
Variation in oil content and fatty acid proﬁle of Calophyllum inophyllum L. with fruit maturity and its implications on resultant biodiesel quality, Volume 33, Issue 3, May 2011, Pages 629–632"
But Retraction Watch reveals that all is not what it seems. Apparently the announcement for the retraction of this article has now been rescinded. But as these investigative journalists has shown, exposing dodgy science can make you a target for unwelcome blowback. For instance, they cite Abnormal Science, which has gone strangely quiet since last February.
"The people running these sites have provided a useful service, in that they often nudge journals along and lead to corrections and retractions. When they’ve pointed out issues with papers, we always try to link back to them for details," say Marcus and Oransky.
Another site, Science Fraud, last month was served with a legal 'cease-and-desist' letter for daring to expose alleged wrongdoing. Now the site has suspended posts and deleted all of its older entries. It now runs this announcement:
"As many of you may be aware, in recent days this site has been the subject of numerous legal attacks, and as such we have no option other than to temporarily suspend posting. Specifically, a lawyer attempted to subpoena the contact information for the site’s registrant, from our web hosting company (DreamHost Inc). The lawyer (or someone connected to them) then wrote an email to more than 100 people whose papers have been questioned on the site, alleging to provide the identity of the site’s owner. The person mentioned in that email owns the domain."
At PSI we don't anticipate having such legal problems thanks to having several attorneys in our ranks as our membership continues to grow rapidly. With such an upbeat team no one here will be brow beaten into backing down on any matter when the facts are on our side. So help spread the word. There is a growing community of dedicated experts online, whether it's Retraction Watch, Principia Scientific International or others, we are all acting as sentinels to ensure mainstream science journals stay on their ethical toes. So if you have any evidence of science misconduct - in the journals or elsewhere - and would like PSI to put it under the microscope simply get in touch and our researchers will do the rest.