Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Correcting the scientific record does take a toll on the people involved

May Day was once an international labor day. In the US we tend to avoid so much as a mere acknowledgement of this date and its meaning. It is one worth remembering.

In that spirit, I would like to offer a recent blog post by James Heathers. Part of the labor involved in the sciences includes cleaning up the messes that fellow scientists leave behind when they are grossly incompetent or commit outright fraud. That labor is rarely recognized, is often demonized, and is often done after hours in relative isolation. I don't see that as a sustainable way for individual scientists to live, nor is this a sustainable model for the sciences if we wish them to remain legitimate.

This is as good a time as any to question the incentive structure that allows poor quality work and fraudulent work to slip through the cracks. This is as good a time as any to challenge the publish or perish ethos that has come to define institutions that are not even traditionally research-oriented. The problems revealed by the replication crisis in my field are international in scope and require international solutions. We need to have funding in place for those who are doing the necessary cleanup work as well as structures in place that reward openness - especially when inevitable mistakes get made. We are so far away from where we need to be. We should not see people who are genuinely trying to do the right thing burn out. They need collective support, ASAP.

A wiser man than me once said something about "having nothing to lose but your chains." I think there may be something to that - especially for those of us who toil in relative obscurity and with relative job insecurity.

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