Science self-corrects – instantly

Science self-corrects – instantly

A highly amusing account of how post-publication review uncovered serious flaws in a paper published with great fanfare in Nature.

To give you the tone of the post:

Publishing a paper is still considered a definitive event. And what could be more definitive than publishing two Nature papers back to back on the same subject? Clearly a great step forward must have occurred. Just such a seismic event happened on the 29th of January, when Haruko Obokata and colleagues described a revolutionarily simple technique for producing pluripotent cells. A short dunk in the acid bath or brief exposure to any one of a number of stressors sufficed to produce STAP (Stimulus-Triggered Acqusition of Pluripotency) cells, offering enormous simplification in stem cell research and opening new therapeutic avenues.

As you may be guessing, the “three overworked referees and a couple of editors” did not catch serious issues with the papers.

But some 4000 viewers at PubPeer did.

If traditional peer review had independent and adequately compensated peer reviewers, the results might be different. But the lack of independence and compensation are designed to product a minimum review, not a peer review.

Ironic that electronic journals and publications aren’t given weight in scholarly circles due to a lack of “peer review,” when some “peer review” is nothing more than a hope the author has performed well. A rather vain hope in a number of cases.

I do disagree with the PubPeer policy on anonymity.

Authors could be retaliated against but revolutions are never bloodless. Where would the civil rights movement have accomplished with anonymous letters to editors? It was only the outrages and excesses of their oppressors that finally resulted in some change (an ongoing process even now).

Serious change will occur if and only if the “three overworked referees and a couple of editors” are publicly outed by named colleagues. And for that process to be repeated over and over again. Until successful peer review is a mark of quality of research and writing, not just another step at a publication mill.

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