Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Limitations to the publication of Scientific Research

A somewhat contemporary issue that has arisen amongst some of my colleagues has been that of the 'spectrum of evidence'. Easily identified as the differing validity and reliability of the resources available and those we choose to use. Of course this exists in every sense; on a simply scale; the differences, and our perceptions of truth in news reporting from broadsheet or tabloid press, and so on.

However, what about the creme de la creme; the peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles? How reliable is the research? What biases have existed in the publication process? What effects are there with regard to the place of publication? What about 'impact factor', or accessibility? How do identify quality, and shy away from falsehoods?

Whilst this blog will go on to mention a number of articles with relevance to this including the sacking of a high profile cardiovascular physiologist in the Netherlands, the main focus of this blog is the (shameful self-promotion) recent publication of our own article discussing the limitations of the actual publication process. Including pre-conceived ideas over accuracy based on named author, or location of publication. Aptly titled "Truth in Authority or Authority in Truth?". Which to me is the best place to start.....

....Once you've read that....

Having considered the limitations to publication it is also worth recognising the limitation to the research process itself, and perhaps biased reason to even perform research, including progression of career in attaining tenure, notoriety, protection of a research discipline, and so forth. The renowned cardiovascular researcher; Donald Poldermans, having published over 500 articles was recently sacked from Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam for publishing falsified data. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) have discussed this in two recent articles.(1, 2). And indeed, the BMJ regularly discuss some of the concerns over inaccuracies in the research process.

More recently still PLoS Medicine published an article 'Why most Published research findings are False'. A controversial title that discusses false positive findings, sample size, effect size, and research for promotion, (e.g. tenure)

It's hard to recognise that biases exist in something we would at least hope to see is an honest institution of society, but alas human failings appear to lurk in every shadow, or every page. I was recently directed to this discussion of peer review, and as a published author and co-author of multiple articles as well as having been on the review process for journal articles and books this is obviously an area I am extremely passionate about. Ultimately though as myself and James Steele state at the end of our article:

"We can hope that by exposing and discussing these potential biases that we encourage reviewers, editors and scientists alike to retain nothing more than an attachment to scientific process and a search for the truth, whatever that might be, rather than previous research or a set of beliefs."

Be Well


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