Modern Research Integrity: Stunning Indeed

February 13, 2023

I read “The Rise and Fall of Peer Review.” The essay addresses what happens when a researcher submits a research paper to a research journal. Many “research” journals are owned by big professional publishing companies. If you are not familiar with that sector, think about a publishing club which markets to libraries and “research” institutions. No articles in “research” publications, no promotion. The method for determining accuracy is to ask experts to read submitted papers, make comments, and send a signal about value of the “research.” I served on the peer review panel for a year and quit. I am no academic, but I know doo doo when it is on my shoe.

Now I want to focus on one passage. Consider this statement:

Why don’t reviewers catch basic errors and blatant fraud? One reason is that they almost never look at the data behind the papers they review, which is exactly where the errors and fraud are most likely to be. In fact, most journals don’t require you to make your data public at all. You’re supposed to provide them “on request,” but most people don’t. That’s how we’ve ended up in sitcom-esque situations like ~20% of genetics papers having totally useless data because Excel autocorrected the names of genes into months and years. (When one editor started asking authors to add their raw data after they submitted a paper to his journal, half of them declined and retracted their submissions. This suggests, in the editor’s words, “a possibility that the raw data did not exist from the beginning.”)


  1. There is exactly one commercial database which added corrections to its entries. Why? Accuracy is expensive and most publishers are not into corrections. I think the feature of that database has been in the trash heap for many, many years. The outfit which bought the database is not into excellence in anything but revenue and profit.
  2. I found it impossible to get access to [a] the author to whom I wanted to address a question directly; that is, on the telephone, or [b] to get the data on which the crazy statistical hoops were displayed. Hey, math is not the key differentiator for many researchers, getting tenure and grants are the prime movers. A peer reviewer with pointed questions? Sorry, no way.
  3. The professional publishers want to follow a process which shifts responsibility for publishing error-filled articles to the “procedure”, the peer reviewers, the editors, and probably the stray dog outside their headquarters. Everyone is responsible for mistakes except them.

Net net: Perhaps the notion of open source accuracy needs to be expanded beyond tweets and Facebook posts?

Stephen  E Arnold, February 14, 2023


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