Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Responsibility for Scientific Fraud

Who is responsible when a paper is declared to be the product of fraudulent research? This is a tough question to answer, and is becoming more relevant every day. Is it the first author? The PI? If you're the third author, or even the second on a paper that's found to be fraud, how responsible are you? Should it be allowed to negatively impact your career (it probably will)? Can you claim that you do not bear responsibility if you are not the "direct perpetrator" of the fraud?

Nature has an interesting proposal.

I'm not sure making one author sign such a declaration is necessarily the solution, but at least it has the advantage of holding the senior author truly accountable for the work that bears their name. I don't think one can force responsibility. I think that a really responsible PI will have checked the work in a paper, and one that is inclined to be less responsible will not be made more so easily. Perhaps enforcing accountability with a binding (although I don't know how binding this will be) signed document may lead to greater responsibility.



Schlupp said...

I'm not sure that one responsible author always makes sense. I (a theorist) once published a paper with an experientalist, and I know for sure that I CANNOT judge whether he didn't cheat. I consider in very unlikely, but since I don't know much about his methods, I can't be sure. I just don't know which knobs he turned in his lab. And while I think that he - being half a theorist himself - understood a bit more of my calculations, it isn't hard to imagine a situation where the experimantalist would be equally unable to asess the validity of the theorist's work. Such papers do offer a real value and after all, it is the point of collaborations to bring together people with different expertise. For this reason, I think that it should also be possible to just indicate what each author is responsible for.

The problem with this scheme is, of course, that it is opposed by authors for whom the others could only write that they 'at least did not beak anything too valuable.'

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

I think each and every author should be held accountable for their contribution- several journals ask to specify individual authors' contributions, so that can be used to keep track.
It's really not easy to keep check or be responsible for a collaborator's work, you just have to take it at face value.