Scientific journal editors could help to assure the authenticity and validity of high-profile research papers published within their pages or online by being more skeptical in reviewing such submissions, according to an examination of the policies that enabled a South Korean stem cell researcher to dupe an American publication into printing fake research, WashingtonPost.com reports.
The review was released via telephone press conference yesterday, and its results will appear in the next issue of the American scientific journal Science—the publication that commissioned the review, and that published two of Hwang Woo Suk’s most controversial faux papers in 2004 and 2005, according to the Post. Science later retracted the papers after both U.S. and Korean probes found that nearly all of Hwang’s results were made up, and he was fired from Seoul National University and charged with fraud, the Post reports.
The two articles that were pulled claimed that the researcher had made major breakthroughs in stem cell research, including the creation of embryonic stem cells from a cloned human embryo and the ability to make stem cells that matched up with individuals’ genetic makeup, according to the Post.
The new review—which was conducted by a panel of six experts—found that though there will always be fraud associated with scientific research due to the potential for fame and monetary gain, better screening and analysis procedures can help to decrease the amount of fake material that makes it into the pages of journals, the Post reports.
“Progress in science depends on breakthroughs and in taking risks, both in research and in publishing,” the report reads, according to the Post. “Nevertheless, it is essential to develop a process by which papers that have the likelihood of attracting attention are examined particularly closely for errors, misrepresentation, deception or outright fraud.”
The reviewers concluded that Science should come up with a “risk assessment” policy to help identify notable papers that could have lasting effects on the field of science or other areas, or that contain conclusions that could be interpreted as controversial, the Post reports. Coauthors of papers should also need to specify the role they played in the research, and additional solid evidence should be submitted along with it, the review found, according to the Post.
The panel’s suggestions were specifically aimed at Science; however, it also said the new procedures should be shared and discussed with other publications so that fraudsters don’t simply avoid journals with strict review standards and submit to those with less stringent policies, the Post reports.
Though the suggestions seem helpful on the surface, some experts—including Science Editor in Chief Donald Kennedy—said that even if they were in effect at the time of Hwang’s fraudulent submission, it’s unlikely his papers would have been found to be fake at that early time, according to the Post.
“I don’t think that the procedures we’ve been discussing so far would necessarily have caused us to not publish or to seriously doubt the publishability of these papers,” Kennedy said, the Post reports.
Kennedy is currently deciding whether his publication will act on the review panel’s suggestions, and Science is also working on a new screening system to help flag papers that should receive additional examination, according to the Post.
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