There have been a recent rash of reports about falsifying data in scientific articles (e.g., Retraction Watch). This is a very unfortunate situation. However, it is really stupid to falsify data, because the basis of science is to repeat published data, and then to take the research on that topic to the next level. Therefore, false data will soon be found out, but at great expense to science.

However, there are more important dangers to science, e.g., warping the discussion of a paper to prove a false theory by ignoring all of the data in the literature that are contrary to the false theory, by misinterpreting (deliberately?) ones’ own data, by incorrectly reinterpreting the data of others, and by incorrectly reporting the results of others (1).

This subtle form of falsification is usually believed by the readers, since it came from a "good" laboratory, and was published in "good" journals, and it will remain in the literature forever as "fact", and it will waste the time and money of unsuspecting students and scientists.

I have been a victim of such falsehoods. All of these improper actions came from several papers published after I retired in "good journals" by one laboratory that was determined to prove that excision repair is the only repair function that is important to cells after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This was done in the face of 30 years of work showing the importance of recombinational DNA repair. Excision repair only accounts for about 50% of survival after UV irradiation (genetic evidence), not the 100% that some authors would have you believe. If cells are synchronized so that there are only two strands of DNA present, then there is no need for recombinational DNA repair; excision repair can fix things. However, as soon as four strands of DNA are produced during replication, then recombinational DNA repair becomes the mechanism for repairing lesions in the replicated DNA (2).

Additional information can be found in the PSO module on Recombinational DNA Repair.

What can be done to make authors read the literature, and make editors send papers to reviewers who are knowledgeable of the literature, and for editors to make sure that the reviewers do their jobs properly? Some thoughts on this topic can be found in the PSO module Improving our Scientific Standards

1. Ethics in Science; What Has Happened To It?, K.C. Smith, ASBMB Today, p. 2, May 2006; and p 2., June 2006 (left out reference). PDF Reprint

2. Recombinational DNA Repair: The Ignored Repair Systems, K.C. Smith, BioEssays 26, 1322-1326, 2004. PDF Reprint

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