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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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January 4, 2012

The Changing Literature

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Posted by Derek

The folks behind Retraction Watch (Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky) have a piece in Nature on what it's been like since they started the blog.

They note a new trend - for new data to appear when a retraction is called for (or made), but without any clarity about whether these new corroborative results have been peer-reviewed themselves. And they're absolutely right that a retraction should state exactly why the paper is being retracted; those "This paper has been withdrawn by the authors" notices are less than useless.Their experiences have them calling for a different way of looking at scientific papers in general:

". . . It is important to point out that an increase in retractions isn't necessarily a bad thing, because they correct the scientific record. But the greater visibility of papers and retractions today adds to the evidence revealing why editors need to handle retractions more transparently. In turn, researchers need to stop emphasizing the paper so much.

What is needed, instead, is a system of publication that is more meritocratic in its evaluation of performance and productivity in the sciences. It should expand the record of a scientific study past an individual paper, including additional material such as worthy blog posts about the results, media coverage and the number of times that the paper has been downloaded."

It's true that more and more of this is being done out here on the internet, in public, and in real time. (I'm glad to say that some of it is done on this site). The new Crossmark system (now being tested) might be a way to keep up with all these extensions, and link them to the original paper. Such a system would have come in very handy indeed during the "arsenic bacteria" business, during which just finding all the useful comments was a real job in itself. There are authors who will not care for this sort of thing, but when you publish a paper, you're opening the door to public comment (and criticism). It's just that now we have the tools to do that more quickly and thoroughly.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Pharmaheretic on January 4, 2012 1:12 PM writes...

But does it really matter- given that most published research in the biomedical and increasingly other areas is either outright fraud, cherry-picked or the same safe and mediocre BS rewritten in 5 different journals?

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2. Virgil on January 4, 2012 4:17 PM writes...

Adam and Marcus run a great site.

Another good one is, which focuses on the pre-retration end of things - i.e. highlighting dodgy figures in papers.

It's true that biomed/life-sci. is sorely lacking for an equivalent of ArXiv. On the topic of open access, it is also troubling to learn how many of the big publishing houses are supporters of SOPA, the internet censorship bill. Maybe if everyone boycotts and doesn't publish in their journals (in the same way that GoDaddy was fored to U-turn after they lost thousands of customers for supporting SOPA), then it might drive the field in a more open access direction.

What's really needed, is more monetary support for NCBI, NLM, and other such organizations, who would presumably oversee a biomedical version of ArXiv.

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3. drug_hunter on January 4, 2012 10:39 PM writes...

Building on Virgil: My prediction: In 10 years 90% of scientific results will be published in open-access journals like PLOS. Any takers?

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4. Anonymous on January 4, 2012 11:16 PM writes...

Blog posts/media coverage/number of times a paper is downloaded will end up being as meaningless a metric as citation count. Much of it will be related to a nano-dick that was seen on TOCROFL.

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