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Science admits it has to reassess its review process

But Donald needs a push in the direction of a conference

Nicholas Wade notes today (Jan 11 Wed) in Journal to Examine How It Reviewed Articles that Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science, has acknowledged at last that his review procedures may need updating in the wake of Dr Hwang’s scientific shell game.

But Kennedy has no good ideas to suggest so far except to make every scientist who puts his name to a paper (sometims there are six or more, including as in the Dr Hwang case someone who has never seen the experiment it records) own up in writing to what his contribution to the work was, exactly.

He maintains that realistically, it may be impossible to filter out all fraud from his pages,

Authors may also be required to sign statements saying that they agree with a report’s conclusions.

Dr. Kennedy said in an interview that the review system could not be relied on to prevent fraud.

“I do not think a perfect system can be designed for detecting fraud, and I do not think we can make a dramatic improvement in our capacity to detect it,” he said.

It will be interesting to hear his reasons, after he has devoted a little more thought to the topic. The problem of HIV?AIDS indicates just how important it is avoid claims being supported for the non scientific reasons of fortune and fame, and the issue of how to make peer review a little tougher is obviously wider than simply blocking outright fraud.

With the scientific literature the only stable measure of the quality of science, and peer review the only means of guarding its virtue, in a century where the unscientific stakes of money, power and fame can exert an overwhelming influence on the behavior of scientists, we need a whole conference on the topic.

We at the Committee for Scientific Progress support such a conference and its goal of improving the quality and integrity of the peer review process as a leading priority in the self-governance of science today.

For historical, geographical and ethical reasons we suggest Rockefeller University would be the ideal site.

We are thinking that not only is it sufficiently far removed from the influence of Washington politics, but it is also the place where a certain scientist lost his high position in the wake of his poor behavior in protecting a questionable paper to which he had signed his name without actually checking the experiment done, or so it seemed, including (all this according to testimony in front of the investigating Dingell Committee in Congress) mounting a massive effort to protect it from review and to destroy the career of the whistleblower who had sucked him into such public embarrassment, behavior which resulted in such a wave of disapproval from the majority of the professors at Rockefeller that he was forced to flee in shame and humiliation.

Surely this is the correct venue for a reassessment of how science must guard its virtue.

(show)

The New York Times

January 11, 2006

Journal to Examine How It Reviewed Articles

By NICHOLAS WADE

Science magazine, the leading scientific journal that published Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s two now-discredited reports on cloning human cells, said yesterday that it would evaluate how the articles had been reviewed and search for ways to improve its procedures.

The journal’s statement followed the announcement yesterday by an investigatory panel of Seoul National University that Dr. Hwang had never generated embryonic stem cells from human cells, as he reported in articles in March 2004 and June 2005.

The 2005 paper was retracted by the authors, and the journal is now retracting the 2004 paper.

Journal editors have usually taken the position that their reviewers cannot be expected to detect fabrication. This was the view expressed by Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science, and Philip Campbell, the editor of Nature, at an earlier phase of the Hwang scandal.

Nature has emerged the luckier of the two journals, having published only Dr. Hwang’s claim that he had cloned a dog, Snuppy. The Seoul panel said yesterday that Snuppy was a true clone.

Science, however, must recover from publishing the two articles on human embryonic stem cells, which seemed to bring therapeutic cloning – treating patients with new tissues generated from their own cells – almost within reach.

One change Science is considering is to require a statement from each author describing his or her contribution to an article. These statements would be published, probably online, Dr. Kennedy said.

By longstanding practice, scientific reports carry only a list of authors. The first and last named authors generally garner most of the credit for a discovery. The custom is that the first author is the one who did most of the research and the last is the most senior author.

Authors may also be required to sign statements saying that they agree with a report’s conclusions.

Dr. Kennedy said in an interview that the review system could not be relied on to prevent fraud.

“I do not think a perfect system can be designed for detecting fraud, and I do not think we can make a dramatic improvement in our capacity to detect it,” he said.

Benjamin Lewin, a former editor of the journal Cell, said the requirement to state individual contributions might prevent scientists from getting an authorship credit when they had made a minor contribution or raised money. “If this proposal took hold, it wouldn’t be a bad thing since you would have a better sense of people’s contributions,” he said.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

One Response to “Science admits it has to reassess its review process”

  1. Robert Houston Says:

    That “certain scientist” – whose certainty seems largely delusional – was involved, I submit, in a bigger deception than the scandal which caused him to lose the presidency of Rockefeller University. In 1986, Dr. David Baltimore co-chaired the National Academy of Science committee on a National Strategy for AIDS, which helped to misorient the research into an absurdly HIV mono-focus. Moreover, in 1996 he was appointed head of the NIH AIDS Vaccine Research Committee, which resulted in the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in an entirely useless and irrational effort to make more people HIV antibody-positive. But modern science too often seems to reward chicanery. After stepping down as president of Rockefeller in 1991, was he “forced to flee in shame and humiliation”? Actually, he remained on the faculty until mid-1994, when he became a professor of molecular biology at MIT. Since 1997 he has been president of Caltech.

    I hope that sometime you’ll tell us more about the Committee for Scientific Progress and how we can all contribute. Please let us know in advance the details about its conference at Rockefeller U.

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