Did you read the article: “mistakes in research papers
fuel a surge in retractions,” by G. Naik? It lays
out where, over two recent five year time periods,
leading journals published retractions. Then, it tries
to show expertise by citing various sources on
distantly related topics about dangers and fears.
The COMMENTS component of the online
version, no secret, hums on people’s favorite
controversies [global warming, economy and
economists, genetically modified foods].
Ok, the data on retractions are solid. There are
real reasons for each of these. The article tries
to infer a “rise in fraud”. If not fraud, it uses
terms like incompetence, spectacular results
for headlines and backpeddling. We, scientists,
need to be clear and vocal about the process of
scientific inquiry where we question, test, draw
conclusions and, sometimes, try to generalize.
Many times, we are wrong, but not deterred.
Different fields or different constituencies seek
certainty, like business, and have trouble
understanding the nuances of:
- Complex systems
- Unintended consequences of Interactions
- Funding sources “drying up”
- Rush to publish to support new or ongoing work
and other complications.
All of these things are part of our generation of
scientists’ and engineers’ (to a lesser extent in some
We all face this connundrum in our careers.
A more open discussion of the ethics held
in different fields may help misinformation
from taking headlines. A related entry on
Tim Harford’s book Adapt offers some insight.