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Shaming Fraud

A little metaphorical sunlight may be the best disinfectant for cleaning up fraud in research publishing, according to University of Rochester's Paul Brookes. By calling out fraud when they see it, life scientists can help clean up the field, Brookes believes.

As Pacific Standard reports, Brookes launched Science Fraud in 2012 to create a forum for whistle blowing life scientists to put a spotlight on bad research anonymously, but Brookes himself was publicly outed and the endeavor was shut down under threats of legal action.

Brookes was left with a stack of submissions – 223 of them – which he had not published anything on yet. He started wondering if he could use these to test whether publishing the fraud allegations is more effective in getting papers retracted than contacting the publishers privately.

He had already seen how the Science Fraud site had gotten results, and now he would use the remaining submissions to test whether the private approach could work.

He found a large difference between the going the private and public route.

"I reviewed a paper and found fabricated data. The journal rejected the paper, and subsequently it was published in a different journal with some problem data still present," Brookes says.

Twenty-three percent of the papers that were called out on Science Fraud were either retracted from or corrected in their journals. The more discreet approach was less successful. When he notified the publishers directly with concerns about the papers, he found that only 3.1 percent of were either corrected or retracted.

"Public exposure appears to have made poor research seven times more likely to be fixed," Pacific Standard's Paul Bisceglio notes.

Who would have guessed?