Still a couple more hours for the year 2020 to end. A year in which so much was lost — our freedom to go where we like and meet whom we want, jobs, health, and the lives of too many friends and family members.
I feel that science has lost something as well — credibility with the general public because of the back and forth on some issues regarding COVID-19 prevention and treatment. It is hard to explain to non-scientists how difficult and slow science sometimes is, especially in light of a new virus, a new pandemic. Good science is often slow, but we all wanted fast answers, and this brought a lot of “Yes we found it!” and “Oh, well, never mind” papers that were confusing to understand or explain. In addition, the current US government has not been very science friendly, encouraging false statements to confuse many of us.
Still, there are some hopeful signs. The first coronavirus-vaccines are being distributed and a new US government will hopefully restore some of the faith in science that has been lost in the past years.
Here, I look back on the work in science integrity that I did in the past year. All the work I list here was unpaid, and I thank my loyal Patreon subscribers for their ongoing support that allows me to keep on doing my volunteer work.
A 2007 paper published in Science — in which I found image irregularities back in 2015 — has finally been retracted. For five long years, the journal took no action. But after I tweeted about the case, it eventually acted.
Because I recently posted concerns about a set of over 50 papers from a Chinese immunologist, several journalists and scientists have asked me why I targeted a specific professor from a specific country. My answer is that I search for problematic papers, regardless of what country they are from.
As of today, I have posted concerns on PubPeer about 1300 papers. About half of these, 775, were posted in the last 6 months (1 June 2019 – 23 November 2019). I started scanning the biomedical literature for image duplications, plagiarism, and other concerns in 2013. Because I quit my job earlier this year, I now have much more time to spend on finding and reporting papers, which is why more than half of these posts were done in the last 6 months. In total, I have found over 2,000 papers, but I have not yet reported all of these to PubPeer.
My 775 PubPeer posts from the last 6 months discussed papers in 32 different countries on six continents (as determined by the affiliation of the first author). Of these, almost 200 are from the US, and 106 are from China. Here is a map:
So no, I am not specifically targeting anyone or any country. I am, however, targeting problematic papers, no matter where they come from.