Bullied into bad science

Bad science.....yes too much bad science!

Bananas as good as drugs for treating HIV spoof

An article by Oliver Moody in The Times on July 1st caught my eye called  "Academics strike back against bad science" (Oliver Moody, Science Correspondent July 1 2017).

Particularly interesting was the group that a bunch of Cambridge academics has set up called Bullied into Bad Science. On their website they say, "We are postdocs and a reader in the humanities and sciences at the University of Cambridge. We are concerned about the desperate need for publishing reform to increase transparency, reproducibility, timeliness, and academic rigour of the production and dissemination of scholarly outputs."

Corina Logan, a Leverhulme early career zoology research fellow at Cambridge, founded the group and has been personally impacted saying she had been turned down for grants and a big job at another university because of her refusal to conform to "the rules" when it comes to academic publications.

Corina Logan

Corina Logan

Fermented Grape are 100% behind Carina and Bullied into Bad Science. As readers will be aware we committed to debunking bad science and bad reporting by the media. Too much exaggeration and fake news particularly when it comes to wine, alcohol and health!

Full Times article:

For one young scientist, the moment of truth came when she was presented with a pre-written template for her study and told to fill the results out in the gaps.

For another, it was when she was told that the editor of a leading journal would prefer to publish “sexy” articles even if they were not reliable.

Fed up with the relentless pressure to produce reams of jazzed-up findings, a group of junior researchers at the University of Cambridge are fighting back with a campaign called Bullied into Bad Science.

The movement has now spread to universities around the world, including Bristol, Oxford, University College London and the University of California, Los Angeles. More than 50 academics have signed up so far.

Each has a story of being told by senior colleagues that their career would be on the line if they did not keep up a steady flow of eye-catching results in top journals, where their articles cannot be read without an expensive subscription.

The imperative to publish or die leads to a tide of rushed, exaggerated and sometimes downright false research, according to the campaign’s organisers.

One of Bullied into Bad Science’s biggest concerns is the discrimination against “ethical” open-access journals that make publicly funded science freely available to anybody who wants to check the results.

Corina Logan, a Leverhulme early career zoology research fellow at Cambridge, who founded the group, said she had been turned down for grants and a big job at another university because of her refusal to play the publication game. “We don’t have to be pressured,” she said. “Stop pressuring us, especially when we are making choices that are good for science and good for academia. We might have inherited this crazy, broken structure that supports bad science, but we don’t have to perpetuate it.”

The campaign has won an influential ally in David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at Cambridge who told the Royal Statistical Society this week that most studies contained inflated claims.

“To be honest, the journal model is an archaic, Victorian scientific process that frankly is not particularly fit for purpose in the modern age of mass science,” Professor Spiegelhalter said.

“It’s completely geared up to newsworthy new discoveries and these are unnecessarily incentivised by the publication process. If we were starting the whole scientific publication process now we would not choose the current method.”

In an ideal world, researchers would get on with doing thorough science and release their results only when they are ready and in a place where all the world can see them free of charge. The world of science often falls short of that ideal, according to Laurent Gatto, a senior research associate in biochemistry at Cambridge who is another of the movement’s leaders. “There’s pressure to publish, publish a lot, and publish in some journals that are considered better,” he said.

“The side-effect is that both scientists that submit as well as editors that accept papers are likely to cut corners to get the sexiest research in these glamorous journals.”

In rare cases, the skewed incentives lead academics to cheat the system. In the past week Frank Sauer, a US biochemist, was given a five-year ban from receiving US government grants after doctoring images in the world’s two top-ranked journals, Nature and Science, while Erin Potts-Kant, formerly of Duke University, North Carolina, admitted faking data that may have landed her team several hundred million dollars in federal funding.

Usually, however, the effects are much more subtle. One scientist, speaking anonymously, said they had been effectively forced to pay $6,000 to publish work in a more prestigious journal. Another was told by a supervisor that making their science open access would not be “good for your stats”. The researcher said: “It’s all very disheartening. I played the game several times. I don’t any more.”

Bullied into Bad Science has in its sights the senior academics and university officials who choose which researchers to hire or fund on the basis of how many papers they have published and in what journals — sometimes without reading the articles in question.