I was interested to read the Review Public ‘Mea Culpas’ by Jon Cohen in the December 1stIssue of Technology Review. It covers the amount of scientific literature that gets withdrawn for reasons including inaccuracy, honest mistakes or … full blown fraud. It also made me aware of retractionwatch.wordpress.com. A great presentation on the facts can be found here.
Ivan Orasnky and Adam Marcus make a clarion call for greater openness about plagiarism and why papers get withdrawn, but …
The most alarming comments were around the paucity of access to scientific literature, which is (after all) there to increase knowledge, make R&D more efficient and provide the grist of scientific debate that drives progress.
Covered by William Heisel here the two say that, “most retractions live in obscurity in Medline and other databases.”
It’s not only retractions that are hard to find
The ‘innacurate science’ message is very important for the entire community. But isn’t the bigger issue that those who funded the retracted research – often taxpayers – aren’t particularly likely to find out about them. Nor are investors always likely to hear about retractions on basic science papers whose findings may have formed the basis for companies into which they pour dollars.”
When the valuable product of ‘good science’ – accurate observation and insightful observation – is not easily available to fellow scientists and innovators the rate of advancement of real knowledge creation is lower than the amount of effort applied.
If it’s easier for researchers to read their Twitter feed on last night’s episode of their favourite show than to access the information they need to make their next advance – then we have a big problem.
Surely in a hi-tech information age that is open to (almost) all, we must be able to make this invaluable science content easily available to researchers as a routine and regular part of their working day?