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Scientific publication, pressure and fraud – the bombastic combination

Commented by the ESC Working Group on Myocardial Function

Research Ethics
ESC Working Groups


Currently, researchers are facing increasing pressure to publish in high-impact journals. Access to academic positions, funding schemes or career progression is often limited to researchers who have published in such journals, independently of their scientific innovation or careers. This scenario might promote scientific fraud. Indeed, the number of retracted papers has been alarmingly increasing, not only in high-impact but in all range of impact factors’ journals1, 2. Thus, an obvious medium/long term consequence is the limited ability to translate research into clinical success.

As Pierre Abelard once said, “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth". In the peer-review system, “truth” is a synonym of “scientific integrity” and achieving it must be the main role of the reviewers. However, the outcome of the peer-review process is more dependent on the reviewers’ scientific beliefs, effort to deeply understand the paper and on their time availability, which is, quite often, short. Thus, the quality of the reviewing process is sometimes questionable and many times the acceptance or rejection of a paper is a last-minute decision taken under pressure. Indeed, a paper with relevant, but complex, scientific content might just end up being rejected because the reviewer had a busy working day.

To prevent such situations, reviewers should be graded for the quality of their participation in peer-review processes. Accordingly, Publons represents a good kick-off initiative although it just lists and does not assess the quality of each reviewer. Considering that each researcher has an “h-index stamp” on his career, whose validity is questionable but out of the scope of this comment, each reviewer should be rated according to his/her reviewing skills. This would certainly raise the bar of the peer-review process. Other steps in the direction of scientific integrity could be taken to promote transparency and “responsibility” of the reviewers and authors. These include the publication, as supplementary online files, of the entire peer-review process and of the “negative” results (without significant group differences) associated with the main message of the paper. While the former is already implemented in some journals, the latter is not a mandatory or even current practice in most journals.

References


  1. Begley CG and Ellis LM. Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research. Nature. 2012;483:531-3.
  2. Fang FC and Casadevall A. Retracted science and the retraction index. Infect Immun. 2011;79:3855-9.
The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.

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