22 September 2010

Scientists Behaving Badly: The Complete Series

Retraction Watch is veritable goldmine for case studies of scientific ethics. Or a motherlode. I’m sure some sort of mining metaphor is appropriate.

There are a lot of blogs that take pride in mythbusting, examining overblown claims, and exposing bad science, and yes, Ben Goldacre’s blog of that name is one of the best examples. But often these deal with claims that are about distortions created by others about valid research, or are examining the weaknesses of projects that are still part of the scientific record.

Retraction is an effort to expunge something from the scientific record entirely. If a journal article gets retracted, it is usually because something has gone very, very, badly wrong. It is among the biggest repudiations that scientists are likely to face, and I daresay is usually initiated by the journal rather than the author.

Having many retractions in one place, with commentary and some investigation, is incredibly instructive. You get to see the pitfalls that people fall into. Some are are unforeseen, and some are holes that people dig for themselves.

It may be one of the most important blogs about scientific research that has yet been created.

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