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Scientific dishonesty: European reflections
  1. I Cavill
  1. Department of Haematology, University Hospital of Wales, Heath Park, Cardiff CF4 4XW, UK
    1. P Riis
    1. Ministry of Science, 7 Nerievej, DK-2900, Hellerup, Denmark

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      Dr Riis provides a cool Nordic analysis of scientific dishonesty and concludes that there is a need for a national independent control body that should take initiatives for strong preventative action.1 I disagree.

      There is no real evidence that scientific dishonesty is on the increase. Even if it were, it does not matter. Unsound data are already published for a variety of reasons, the chief of which are unsound methodologies and authors' inept expectations of laboratory and other data. Fraudulent data are, almost certainly, trivial by comparison. The published literature is not a source of truth. The only test of its validity is whether or not it is convincing to the discerning individual. This requires what used to be called scholarship. Neither popularity nor fashion are valid tests in this field. The ultimate responsibility is on readers to come to their own decision about the value and meaning of any given report. Unless an individual is prepared to exercise these critical faculties they should get out of the business. Passing the buck to “independent national control bodies” and thereby side stepping personal responsibilities will lead to consensus based science, which will be at the mercy of the ebb and flow of fashion, in my opinion.

      References

      The author replies

      A doubtful or unreliable methodology or the unrealistic use of laboratory data certainly can invalidate results of biomedical research. But they are usually unintended parts of research publications and can be disclosed by critical readers if such shortcomings should happen to pass the referee and editorial gatekeepers. On the contrary the deliberate creation or change of research data via fraudulent behaviour is not always possible to detect, as a large number of serious international cases have demonstrated.

      On this background, the Nordic attitude (as expressed in my leader) is based on the fact that scientific fraud is an existing phenomenon, and that for this reason an independent national body is recommendable. Such an institution will be suitable for exonerating falsely accused scientists and to collect national and international real cases for preventive education. The purpose of the latter is precisely to strengthen scientists' personal responsibility, as Dr Cavill mentions, and certainly not to side step it.

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