In Nature last week, Massachusetts General Hospital's Daniel MacArthur wrote an opinion article saying false positives are a given in genomic research. Researchers and journals are eager to publish interesting results, he said, however, "two processes conspire to delude ambitious genomicists" — one being the size of the genome, which causes unusual events to occur frequently and the second being the nuances of high-throughput technology, which can lead to errors that can be misinterpreted.
At The Mermaid's Tale, Penn State's Ann Buchanan says the fact that journals are issuing lots of retractions is evidence that "often results are simply wrong, either for technical reasons or because statistical tests were inappropriate, wrongly done, incorrectly interpreted or poorly understood." And although peer review catches some of these mistakes, reviewers and journal editors aren't getting all of them, she says. Added to that is the pressure to publish, which can sometimes make even the most exacting researcher overlook what may be red flags. What's needed in research, Buchanan says, is a "healthy skepticism."
"You don't have to work with online genomic databases very long before it becomes obvious — at least to the healthy skeptic — that you have to check and recheck the data," she adds.