Monday, April 18, 2016

Dishonest Scientists: Who is the Guardian?

The "Routine Activities" theory of crime developed by Marcus Felsen and Lawrence Cohen posited a crime triangle: a willing perpetrator, an available victim, and the lack of a capable guardian. That guardian could just be a neighbor, sitting on their porch, watching the street. In scientific research, it seems to be not clear to some that we all share the roles of capable guardians.

Elsevier's executive publisher, Dr. Jaap van Harten, offered a fallacious analogy when he likened the dishonest researcher to a thief in a shoe store and the reviewer to the shop owner. Dr. van Harten wrote:  
 “No. It is NOT the role of the reviewer to spot ethics issues in papers. It is the responsibility of the author to abide by the publishing ethics rules. Let’s look at it in a different way: If a person steals a pair of shoes from a shop, is this the fault of the shop for not protecting their goods or the shoplifter for stealing them? Of course the fault lies with the shoplifter who carried out the crime in the first place.”
The comment is in a sidebar to this article: “Why unethical research behavior could result in a revoked doctorate: An expert who investigates misconduct cases shares his thoughts and experiences” by Tony Mayer (Posted on 5 April 2016), here. I read it first on the Retraction Watch blog (here). I sent this comment, which was not approved by the moderator:
“The analogy is not parallel. The reviewer is not the shop owner, and neither is the publisher. The publisher is the purchasing department of a retailer. The reviewer is an auditor. If an auditor discovers that the purchasing department is acquiring goods that lack clear title, that fact must be reported. It must be reported, first, internally, but, also, quite likely, to law enforcement authorities with competent jurisdiction. Those people are analogous to the ethics committee or integrity office of the institution for which the authors work.
 Rather than a dodge, we deserve a higher standard of ethics from one of the world's leading publishers of scientific research. Instead of limiting the roles of publishers (and their reviewers), it would be more productive for a renowned expert like Dr. van Harten to suggest the standards and means for strengthening and extending them.”

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