Journal concedes ‘Wall of Shame’ could cause ‘unjust’ harm

Cureus founder says name-and-shame policy could cause hardship but is justified by threat to patient safety from fraud

四月 25, 2022
Person was given a soaking during a spell in 'Olde Pillory' at a fun day event to illustrate a Journal concedes ‘Wall of Shame’ could cause ‘unjust’ harm
Source: Getty

A medical journal has conceded that its “Wall of Shame” for researchers whose papers have been retracted could cause “unjust” damage to academic careers, while defending the controversial policy.

This month, Cureus, a San Francisco-based open-access journal aimed primarily at practising medical professionals, unveiled a new feature to “highlight authors who have committed egregious ethical violations as well as the institutions that enabled them”, in which the names, titles, affiliations and photos of academics are displayed.

But the Wall of Shame, which currently features 12 academics, nine of whom are from Pakistan and India, has divided opinion within academic publishing. Some scholars have praised it as “laudable” and “something every journal should follow” but others have condemned the move as “punitive and harmful” and likely to victimise younger scholars or those from disadvantaged communities. In an online poll on the Retraction Watch website, 59 per cent of 429 respondents said it was not a good idea, with one scholar remarking that “finger-pointing exercises add nothing to the scholarly process, and can be highly detrimental to individuals”, even resulting in suicide.

John Adler, Cureus’ editor-in-chief, who co-founded the platform in 2009, told Times Higher Education that he understood the concerns, stating that the move was “not done lightly”.

“The decision to put up a Wall of Shame was the product of literally half a decade of tortuous discussions inside Cureus,” said Professor Adler, who added that “the primary goal was never to gratuitously shame or punish anyone”.

“The goal was to reduce the amount of dishonest behaviour our editorial team must confront on a near daily basis, as does nearly every internet platform today, notably including other scientific journals,” he said.

“The intent is not to punish these individual authors so much as it is to ward off potential future dishonesty and doing so without punishing our huge user base, all of whom benefit from Cureus’ unique trust-centric environment.”

It was also important to acknowledge the “dangers of misinformation inside journals”, added Professor Adler, a Stanford University-affiliated neurosurgeon. “Lies can pose a near and present danger to patient well-being. Rooting out fraudulent health-related information warrants tougher sanctioning than most other types of internet deception,” he said.

However, the wall’s focus on individuals could have a serious impact on academics’ lives, even if the PubMed and Retraction Watch websites already called out wrongdoing in a similar way, conceded Professor Adler.

“I cannot be certain that our Wall of Shame will not have lasting repercussions on someone’s career. In some cases that might be a good thing, but in my opinion, it would be unjust in most – but not all – circumstances,” he said.

David Sanders, an associate professor of biology at Purdue University who has exposed numerous cases of academic fraud, said he did not agree with Cureus’ emphasis on individuals, with only corresponding authors on retracted papers being named.

“The Wall of Shame is an attention-grabbing display by a journal that feels as if its own shame has been exposed by individuals that have defrauded it,” said Dr Sanders, who believed that a “list of articles – with author names and institutional affiliations – that display evidence of misconduct would, in my opinion, be more appropriate”.

“If the journal really wished to promote integrity, it would improve its peer review protocols and retract a lot more of its articles,” he said.



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Reader's comments (1)

It is well worth noting that David Sanders is NOT a physician. Fraudulent basic science publications wastes societal time and money. Speaking as a physician, fake medical publications, cost patient lives and thereby require a stricter level of enforcement.