When it comes to scientific integrity, US research institutions are stuck in a dismal situation. A breed of data thugs bullying institutions and journals, and a mob of angry losers and science dropouts are effectively running the show from the squalor of venues like Retraction Watch. Sadly, a few members of the science establishment – naive or simply stupid – are listening. The situation is best characterized as grotesque. The picture below features Ivan Oransky (left), founder of Retraction Watch, and his celebrated “data thug” James Heathers (right), a postdoc at Northeastern whom Oransky characterized in a recent Science article as someone who “revels in acting like a dinner guest who farts loudly—and unapologetically—during grace.”
The prospect of these people getting involved in matters related to scientific integrity is truly frightening.
Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky (left) and “data thug” James Heathers (right).
Worse yet, criminality is by no means alien to the modus operandi of these people. Retraction Watch founders Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus have made inflammatory statements directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action (coercion), as illustrated in their STAT article on April 6, 2017. The self-appointed experts on science fraud Oransky and Marcus wrote:
We need coercion precisely because so many scientists are loath to collaborate on any terms other than their own, if at all.
This incitement to violence is of course actionable because it constitutes a criminal offense. So whoever is currently funding this violent group and its coterie of sock puppets should cease to do so on legal grounds, let along moral or ethical grounds.
Against this appalling reality, it has become imperative to create a US Advisory Board for Research Integrity, as recently argued in a Nature article. This long overdue mandate is finally materializing. Thus, a Research Policy Board will become a central resource to which all members of the US scientific enterprise could turn for assistance in sustaining an environment of reliable research.
The purview of the US Board will include:
- Foster consistency and exchange of information across funding bodies, scientists and administrators.
- Provide resources to assess research environments and boost integrity.
- Benchmark common practices across institutions and establish best practices.
- Develop guidelines and standards for misconduct investigations and formal disputes.
- Establish lists of vetted experts for external investigations.
Distorted incentives in the pursuit of science are manifold, and few organized bodies can effectively counter them. A research policy board will surely benefit both science and scientists.
The profoundly unethical nature of Retraction Watch’s call for coercion, Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva