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Paying Attention to Clare Francis

Over at Lab Times, Retraction Watch's Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus say that Clare Francis has done a lot to help journal editors uncover fraud. Francis uses software that helps detect plagiarism, and sends findings on various papers to journal editors. But because no one knows who Clare Francis is, many editors — despite having been handed what could be important information on a given paper — respond that they'll only look into the allegations of fraud if Francis will identify him or herself, Oransky and Marcus say. Some journal editors and researchers consider anonymous tips that lead to the review of a researcher's work little more than smears, they add.

However, while knowing the identity of such whistleblowers is an important part of knowing their motivations for outing potential research fraud, "we’re baffled as to why editors and institutions ignore private emails from anonymous whistle-blowers," Marcus and Oransky write. "Unless, of course, they’re trying to find ways not to do the work of investigating the claims — work that, one way or another, is their responsibility." While anonymity affords one the opportunity to attack rivals, not being anonymous certainly doesn't stop such ad hominem attacks from happening in the first place, Marcus and Oransky say. And individuals who identify themselves when reporting possible fraud are unlikely to be better at spotting it than anonymous tipsters. "In other words, we treat anonymous tipsters the same as we treat tipsters who send us plenty of information about themselves. We don’t demand their real names or affiliations. Editors should do the same," Oransky and Marcus write. "That’s because facts are stubborn things and we haven’t seen any evidence yet that people who identify themselves have any more of a monopoly on them than those who want to remain anonymous — sometimes for excellent reasons."

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