Research paper ‘sloppiness’ on the increase, warns publisher

Editors have noted a “certain level of sloppiness” creeping into research papers, the executive editor of the Nature Publishing Group has said.

May 12, 2013

Speaking at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity, held in Montreal, Canada, from 5 to 8 May, Véronique Kiermer said a lot of errors that needed correction were “actually avoidable errors…and I think that is a very troubling trend”.

Although - unlike across academic publishing as a whole - the publishing group’s 18 journals had seen no increase in the number of retractions per year, the number of corrections issued had risen, said Dr Kiermer.

Directing her concerns mainly at the biomedical sciences, she listed problems with papers that included missing control tests, inappropriate and poor image manipulation, issues in experimental design and reporting, and problems with statistics.

“It’s not always that the information is wrong, it’s that it’s not described properly…So it’s both an issue of rigour and the design and execution of these experiments, but also precision in reporting these experiments so they can be interpreted properly,” she told the biennial conference. 

In response to the problem, Nature has announced efforts to raise the standard of reporting and transparency in the papers it publishes, she added.

This would include commissioning statistical reviews of some papers, making authors fill out a checklist relating to common problems and removing the limit on the length of articles’ methods sections.

Dr Kiermer recognised that in doing so it was just “scratching the surface” of a much bigger problem, which included issues to do with insufficient training, for example in the quantitative aspects of biology, as well as in mentoring.

She also flagged up other issues such as the phenomenon of publication bias - where statistically significant, positive results are more likely to be published - as contributing factors.

“It’s a very large problem and it needs a joint approach from all the members of the community,” she concluded.

Dr Kiermer also put the falling standards NPG had observed in the context of problems raised by recent industry studies over replicating academic data; although she said the two issues were “coincidental” rather than causally related.

A 2011 study carried out on behalf of biotech firm Bayer found that results were either fully or partially replicable in only 32 per cent of the academic studies that they tried to repeat. In a further study by biotechnology company Amgen, industrial labs were only able to fully confirm the original scientific findings in 6 of 53 papers.

However Dr Kiermer stressed that there were many good reasons why results might not be transferable from an academic lab to the scrutiny of drug development programmes.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

I hear that China pays cash bonuses (size determined by impact factors, etc.) for successful submissions to Western journals. Also, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence about the effect these bonuses have on the peer-review process. Could someone do some investigating on this ?

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Lecturer in Business and Management DE MONTFORT UNIVERSITY
Director of the Roslin Institute THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
Lecturer in Economics DE MONTFORT UNIVERSITY
International Director UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (8 September 2016)

Some lecturers will rightly encourage forms of student interaction that are impossible for those covering their faces, Eric Heinze argues

Handwritten essay on table

Universities must pay more attention to the difficulties faced by students, says Daniel Dennehy

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Theresa May entering 10 Downing Street, London

The prospect of new grammar schools on the horizon raises big questions for HE, writes Nick Hillman

Nosey man outside window

Head of UK admissions service Mary Curnock Cook addresses concerns that universities might ‘not hear a word’ from applicants