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Can retracting bad papers actually hinder science reform?

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What’s hot? What’s not?/Niklas Bildhauer, Wikimedia

That seems counterintuitive, but consider: Retractions can be a way of sweeping misconduct under the rug, when a thorough investigation is really what is needed.

The retracted paper is co-authored by researchers who used to collaborate with Yoshihiro Sato, a now-deceased bone researcher who has accrued dozens of retractions.

But investigation tends to stop with the retraction, which mean that the problems may continue.

In a recently published paper, Grey and his team reported that after they contacted a dozen journals that had published nearly two dozen clinical trials co-authored by Sato that had been flagged as potentially problematic, they didn’t receive a single useful response. (You can read more about our thoughts on how journals shy away from discussing misconduct here.)staff, “Dear editor: Your retraction notice stinks” at RetractionWatch

Serious reform is not a Saturday afternoon project: It is a full-time job for people who are both smart and committed. Too often, what sounds like attempts at reform are simply Correct face saving and virtue signalling. Nothing happens and no one cares until the next crisis wallops through.

See also: Retraction world: If this is science, yes we do hate it

Fun (no, not really) science news from Retraction Watch on fake news and citation rings


Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky asks: Is the peer review system sustainable?

BO'H: I think he meant a combination, tenure-and-publishing. In effect creating a potentially self-selecting, agenda perpetuating dominant elite with gatekeeper power over what is deemed credible knowledge. That is indeed a point of concern. So is the issue of reform-stopping which is focal to the OP. KF kairosfocus
Reform isn’t needed, just removal. Stop the entire process of tenure and publishing. All of it.
I don't think Sato went through a tenure process (and for what it's worth, I haven't either). And if you stop publishing how will we know about exciting new results in science? What communication tools would you replace it with? Bob O'H
polistra @1 "Reform isn’t needed, just removal. Stop the entire process of tenure and publishing. All of it." I'm not sure that tenure is the problem so much as publication rate being a major metric for granting tenure. Tenure at least allows scientists to advance unpopular ideas with some protection from an orthodox lynch mob. aarceng
Of related note: Peer review as an Echo Chamber, i.e. peer review as a self ratcheting form of censorship that prevents novel, but true, theories from gaining a foothold over prevailing, but false, orthodoxy. Per Denis Noble, "the peer review system in my view is doing what it was designed to do — censor. And filter. Peer review is a system of prior censorship, prior review – prior meaning prior to publication. So the idea of abusing the peer review system sort of adds insult to injury, because the peer review system itself is injurious.,,,"
An Interview with David Noble - Peer Review as Censorship by SUZAN MAZUR - 2010 Excerpt: SUZAN MAZUR: I’ve been focusing on abuse inside the peer review system in recent articles for CounterPunch. The system seems to have spiraled out of control – to the extent that at the low end we now find virtual death squads on Internet blogs out to destroy scientists who have novel theories. They pretend to be battling creationism but their real job is to censor the free flow of ideas on behalf of the science establishment. The science establishment rewards bloody deeds like these by putting the chief assassin on the cover of The Humanist magazine, for example. But you’ve written in "Regression on the Left" that the problem IS the peer review system itself. Why do you think so? David Noble: When you say THE problem is the peer review system – the peer review system in my view is doing what it was designed to do — censor. And filter. Peer review is a system of prior censorship, prior review – prior meaning prior to publication. So the idea of abusing the peer review system sort of adds insult to injury, because the peer review system itself is injurious.,,, http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/02/26/peer-review-as-censorship/ The Folly of Scientism - Austin L. Hughes - Fall 2012 Excerpt: the high confidence in funding and peer-review panels should seem misplaced to anyone who has served on these panels and witnessed the extent to which preconceived notions, personal vendettas, and the like can torpedo even the best proposals. Moreover, simplistically defining science by its institutions is complicated by the ample history of scientific institutions that have been notoriously unreliable. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-folly-of-scientism
For prime example of peer review as "a self ratcheting form of censorship" is Darwinian evolution itself: At the 7:00 minute mark of this following video, Dr. Behe gives an example of how positive evidence is falsely attributed to evolution by using the word 'evolution' as a narrative gloss in peer-reviewed literature:
Michael Behe - Life Reeks Of Design – video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdh-YcNYThY Rewriting Biology Without Spin By Ann Gauger - Jan. 12, 2014 Excerpt: It’s a funny thing—scientific papers often have evolutionary language layered on top of the data like icing on a cake. In most papers, the icing (evolutionary language) sits atop and separate from the cake (the actual experimental data). Even in papers where the evolutionary language is mixed in with the data like chocolate and vanilla in a marble cake, I can still tell one from the other. I have noticed that this dichotomy creates a kind of double vision. I know what the data underlying evolutionary arguments are. By setting aside the premise that evolution is true, I can read what’s on the page and at the same time see how that paper would read if neutral, fact-based language were substituted for evolutionary language. Let me give you an example.,,, http://www.biologicinstitute.org/post/107965814309/rewriting-biology-without-spin Darwinian 'science' in a nutshell: Jonathan Wells on pop science boilerplate - April 20, 2015 Excerpt: Based on my reading of thousands of Peer-Reviewed Articles in the professional literature, I’ve distilled (the) template for writing scientific articles that deal with evolution: 1. (Presuppose that) Darwinian evolution is a fact. 2. We used [technique(s)] to study [feature(s)] in [name of species], and we unexpectedly found [results inconsistent with Darwinian evolution]. 3. We propose [clever speculations], which might explain why the results appear to conflict with evolutionary theory. 4. We conclude that Darwinian evolution is a fact. https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/darwinism/jon-wells-on-pop-science-boilerplate/ What if the story of life on Earth isn't what you think it is? - Nov. 30, 2015 Excerpt: Somewhere right now, a palaeontologist is hating themselves for ending a hopeful grant application with the sentence “… and so this research has implications for human evolution”, knowing full well that it doesn’t. http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2015/nov/30/what-if-the-story-of-life-on-earth-isnt-what-you-think-it-is
And again, the 'narrative gloss' of Darwinian evolution in these peer reviewed papers is by and large completely superfluous:
Like a Grandfather Clock: The Splicesome's Intricate Dance of Parts - June 17, 2014 Excerpt: Then come the required nods to Darwinian evolution, in three places, always assumed, as usual: "The structure yields clues about the relationship and the relative ages of RNA and proteins, once thought to be much wider apart on an evolutionary time scale."... "What's so cool is the degree of co-evolution of RNA and protein," Brow says. "It's obvious RNA and protein had to be pretty close friends already to evolve like this.".... "It's exciting studying these machines," he says. "There are only three big RNA machines. Ours evolved 2 billion years ago. But once it's figured out, it's done." Darwinian theory had nothing to do with the discoveries. These references to evolution are superfluous. They do more harm than good for Darwinists, anyway. 1. The RNA and protein parts were "once thought to be much wider apart on an evolutionary time scale," implying that a previous assumption about evolution has been overturned. Since they are not wider apart, this exacerbates the problem: how could this intricate relationship occur in less time? Where is the evidence? 2. RNA and protein are not "friends" that co-evolve on purpose; that's nonsense. 3. Saying it "evolved" does not explain how it evolved; the statement is vacuous. The final nonsense is the last sentence: "But once it's figured out, it's done." Ay, there's the rub: how is it "figured out"? Calculations show that the probability of chance "figuring out" a protein are vanishingly small -- so much so, that one as complex as the spliceosome would never arise in the entire history of the universe. Like a late-model SUV equipped with a buggy whip, this was an elegant design article carrying unnecessary baggage. Intelligent design did the work. Evolution, as a useless narrative gloss, adds mass but no force. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/06/like_a_grandfat086791.html Biologists Are Getting to Be Less Reticent About Using the Phrase "Design Principles" - November 28, 2014 Excerpt: The word "design" appears 24 times in the paper. "Selection" appears twice, in the phrase "selective pressure" (one of them is just a repetition from the Abstract). Any form of the word "evolution" appears just once:,,, We see, therefore, that "design" references outnumber evolutionary references eight to one. We also find "machine" or "machinery" four times, "coding" or "encoding" 15 times, "information" (in terms of information to be processed) five times, "accurate" (in terms of sensing accuracy) 11 times, "precision" 29 times, "efficient" four times, and "optimal" or "optimum" 28 times. Taken together, these design words outnumber evolution words 40 to 1. Do the three passing references to evolution/selection add anything to the paper? One would expect to see it in the final Discussion section, but instead, we find these references to design:,,, The paper would lose nothing if its three passing references to evolution/selection were left on the cutting-room floor. All these scientists could do was look at the end product and decide, "Yep, it's fit. It's optimal." http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/11/biologists_are091531.html
Reform isn't needed, just removal. Stop the entire process of tenure and publishing. All of it. The publish-or-perish mess started around 1970. Serious research was around for hundreds of years before tenure, and it will continue after tenure. Government and business will pay to have real problems solved. Other research can be supported via crowdfunding if it's truly worthy, just as DonorsChoose supports good teaching in secondary schools. polistra

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