Whistleblower seeks help to expose 'bad' science

January 10, 2013

A US-based researcher is recruiting a team of fellow scientists to help him run a new website exposing questionable science after legal threats forced him to remove all postings from his existing site.

Paul Brookes, an associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York, started Science-fraud.org anonymously in July last year to highlight fellow scientists’ suspicions about life science papers.

However, he was forced to take down all of its content last week. The site’s sole remaining post explains that “someone somewhere” emailed “over 100 people encouraging them to file [a libel] suit against an individual they allege is behind the site”, resulting in “numerous legal attacks”.

“When individuals who are caught doing wrong would resort to such trickery rather than dealing with the root cause of the problem, it paints a truly sorry picture about the state of life sciences in 2013,” the post says.

A day later, Dr Brookes identified himself on his lab’s web page as the owner of Science Fraud. The posting was subsequently removed because, according to Dr Brookes, “legal issues prevent me from using a university affiliated site to make a personal statement”.

However, according to the Retraction Watch website, Dr Brookes wrote that Science Fraud’s launch was motivated primarily by “frustration at the current channels available for dealing with scientific misconduct, which one encounters on an almost daily basis”.

He said “dozens” of helpers had enabled him to document “over 500 problematic images in over 300 publications, amounting to tens of millions of dollars in misappropriated research funds”.

But he admitted his language should have been more measured, and conceded that calling the site Science Fraud was “probably a bad move”: “Something more benign like ‘questionable-science-images.org’ would probably (have been) a better choice”.

He said he planned to recruit a coalition of “like-minded individuals who are sick of the current system” to launch a new website. Each member of the coalition will be publicly identified and all postings will be commonly owned, “such that no one person could be held personally liable”. Allegations will be posted only when agreed by at least three members of the coalition.

Dr Brookes told Times Higher Education that he had already received 20 expressions of interest from potential coalition members and he expected to make a further announcement this week.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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