The Bottom of the Barrel of Science Fraud


Generally, scientific misconduct is so blatant as to be comical. I not too long ago got here throughout an instance of this on Twitter. The next is a picture from a paper revealed within the Journal of Supplies Chemistry C:

As identified on PubPeer, this picture – which is meant to be an electron microscope picture of some carbon dot (CD) nanoparticles – is an apparent pretend. The “dots” are similar, and have clearly been cut-and-pasted. The place one copy has been positioned excessive of one other, the overlap is kind of seen.

It might be charitable to even name this ‘scientific’ fraud.

The Journal of Supplies Chemistry editors mentioned on Twitter that they’re “urgently” wanting into this paper; I’ve little question will probably be retracted quickly, though the truth that it was revealed in any respect raises questions in regards to the peer-review requirements of this journal.

To me as a neuroscientist, circumstances like this from chemistry get me apprehensive. In a area like supplies chemistry, or any area by which outcomes take the type of photographs or pictures (corresponding to Western blots), low-effort fraud is straightforward to identify as a result of the manipulation of a picture can, not less than in unsubtle circumstances, be simply confirmed from the picture itself.

However what of fields like psychology or neuroscience the place knowledge don’t take the type of photographs? Maybe low-effort frauds happen in these fields as properly, however it’s rather more troublesome to detect them when the outcomes are statistical reasonably than pictorial in nature.

(An apart: neuroscience has loads of photographs, e.g. fMRI maps, however I’ve by no means heard of a case of somebody manipulating neuroimages. I’ve heard researchers joke about being tempted to “add some blobs in MS Paint”, however I’m not conscious of this truly occurring. A fraudster wouldn’t want to control neuroimages straight, nonetheless, as a result of these photographs are normally depicitions of statistics, not precise photos, so fiddling the underlying knowledge could be sufficient.)

There are a lot of statistical instruments for detecting fraud and I’ve blogged about a few of these earlier than. However these strategies don’t straight present fraud. They will warn us sure set of information are extraordinarily unlikely to be actual, however they normally can’t present how the fraud was carried out – in contrast to photographs which present us that e.g. copy-pasting was achieved (though see). And these instruments are solely utilized when suspicion has been raised a couple of sure dataset, whereas with picture manipulation, it may be instantly seen within the image.

So, my fear is that psychology and neuroscience may need its personal share of “copy-pasted carbon dots”, and no-one would ever know.

I’m not suggesting that this can be a widespread downside; I feel the overwhelming majority of researchers will not be frauds, and I feel there are larger systemic issues in science. It’s extra a matter of satisfaction. If I’m going to get fooled by a fraud, I’d need them to not less than be a good fraud.

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