One week ago, the website Science Fraud ceased operations under mounting legal pressure. The folks over at Retraction Watch have done a nice job of documenting these events here and here. I was also pointed in the direction of this OP/ED by Bill Frezza in Forbes that was published today that makes the case for more operations like Science Fraud, which seems kind of like a no-brainer position to me. To quote from Frezza’s article:
“Given the tens of millions of dollars in misappropriated research funds that financed this small sample of what is surely a larger problem and the cascading pollution of the scientific literature whenever fraudulent publications get cited, it’s a shame that this tip-of-of-the-iceberg effort at cleansing the muck is being shut down rather than expanded.”
That argument is a fiscal one, and it is accurate. But in reality, isn’t this all about scientific discourse? Science Fraud was crowdsourced (it wasn’t just a one-person show) and was largely anonymous, but that doesn’t mean the site was dismissive of having a discussion about the results in question. To quote from Frezza again:
“Fraud, plagiarism, cherry-picked results, poor or non-existent controls, confirmation bias, opaque, missing, or unavailable data, and stonewalling when questioned have gone from being rare to being everyday occurrences.”
If Science Fraud or any other anonymous website alleges such transgressions, it is certainly appropriate for the accused to enter into a scientific dialogue/defense with the accuser – this plays out millions of times a day in countless blogs across the web. If the accuser is being disingenuous, this will become clear in due course. However, the fact that some have resorted to the litigious path seems distinctly non-scientific to me. If the alleged transgressions were really so innocent, why haven’t we seen a well-constructed counter-argument? The answer to that question seems obvious to me – you can draw your own conclusions.
***UPDATE – January 11, 2013***
Science Magazine has chimed in with this article from Jennifer Couzin-Frankel. It is more of a simple recounting of events as opposed to an opinion piece, but it provides useful insight into how all of this is playing out.