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Is There a Problem?

Retractions are up and researchers are worried, says Carl Zimmer at The New York Times. "Dr. [Arturo] Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct," Zimmer reports. There has always been science misconduct, but it seems to Casadevall and others that recent decades have changed science, Zimmer adds. "Several factors are at play here," he says. "One may be that because journals are now online, bad papers are simply reaching a wider audience, making it more likely that errors will be spotted." But there are also "pernicious forces" like competition for grants, jobs, and tenure, Zimmer adds.

At the Boston Globe, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky from the Retraction Watch blog write that the greatest "threat" to science today is coming from the scientific community itself. "The outsized increase in retractions is partly due to greater transparency, rather than more fraud; the introduction in recent years of software that efficiently detects plagiarism is responsible for many of the retractions we're seeing, and retractions remain an infinitesimal fraction of the 1.4 million papers published every year," they say. "Even so, the institutions of science — universities, laboratories, and journals — shouldn't pat themselves on the back and take the public's trust for granted."

At the Cosmic Variance blog, Sean Carroll has a different take on the issue — most of the examples of egregious misconduct and retractions have come from the biological sciences. Though there are certain problems in his field — physics — it doesn't seem to have as many issues as biology. "Biology and physics are fundamentally different, especially because of the tremendous pressure within medical sciences when it comes to any results that might turn out to be medically useful," Carroll says. "Cosmologists certainly don't have to worry about that."

The Scan

Octopus Brain Complexity Linked to MicroRNA Expansions

Investigators saw microRNA gene expansions coinciding with complex brains when they analyzed certain cephalopod transcriptomes, as they report in Science Advances.

Study Tracks Outcomes in Children Born to Zika Virus-Infected Mothers

By following pregnancy outcomes for women with RT-PCR-confirmed Zika virus infections, researchers saw in Lancet Regional Health congenital abnormalities in roughly one-third of live-born children.

Team Presents Benchmark Study of RNA Classification Tools

With more than 135 transcriptomic datasets, researchers tested two dozen coding and non-coding RNA classification tools, establishing a set of potentially misclassified transcripts, as they report in Nucleic Acids Research.

Breast Cancer Risk Related to Pathogenic BRCA1 Mutation May Be Modified by Repeats

Several variable number tandem repeats appear to impact breast cancer risk and age at diagnosis in almost 350 individuals carrying a risky Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA1 founder mutation.