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Biotech Science

How Did Those STAP Stem Cell Papers Get Accepted In the First Place? 109

bmahersciwriter writes The news team at the scientific journal Nature turns its investigative power on the journal itself. The goal: to try and understand how two papers that made extraordinary claims about a new way to create stem cells managed to get published despite some obvious errors and a paucity of solid evidence. The saga behind these so-called STAP cells is engaging, but sadly reminiscent of so many other scientific controversies.
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How Did Those STAP Stem Cell Papers Get Accepted In the First Place?

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  • by drsmack1 ( 698392 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:17PM (#47380761)

    Peer reviewed. Yeah, right. And just who is reviewing the peers?

  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:35PM (#47380819)

    Peer reviewed. Yeah, right. And just who is reviewing the peers?

    And found out in short order.

    As for what causes researchers to do this sort of thing, well it's the same thing that other humans do. The biggest difference is that science accepts it's lumps and corrects them.

    You'll have someone feeling pressure to get results, and they fudge, make hopeful assumptions, or even fake results. This woman appears to have done all three.

    Then she manages to get some highly respected researchers to sign on. Laziness on their part. The pee reviewers see the names, and get a little lazy themselves.

    Viola. But in all this, the fact remains that others will be fact checking, and trying to reproduce the results claimed in any paper, especially one making these extraordinary claims And that's the strange thing. If you fake the results, you're going to be found out to a high degree of certainty. She toasted her career with a similar degree of certainty.

  • by Beck_Neard ( 3612467 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:08PM (#47380967)

    It's probably not the case that she wrote the paper cackling to herself madly and proclaiming "Those suckers will never find out!"

    It's probably the case that through self-delusion and carelessness she managed to partially convince herself that the results were true, and this, coupled with pressure to produce results, caused her to take a few shortcuts to get it published. What she did was wrong, and her career is over. It's not something a rational mind would have done. But scientists are just human and sometimes prone to making irrational decisions. The great thing is that we have the scientific method to weed out the good from the bad.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:12PM (#47380985)

    And where would the money to reproduce the results come from? Journals typically do not even pay peer reviewers, so you're essentially expecting them to use their own grant money and time to reproduce results knowing that it will get them precisely fuck-all in terms of career advancement. If that were actually the expectation the simple reality is that it would kill off the peer review system.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:23PM (#47381019)

    The biggest difference is that science accepts it's lumps and corrects them.

    Yes but...

    Science has bigger problems correcting them, and takes much longer to do so, when political and financial pressure tempt people to look the other way. Scientists are people too.

  • by pepty ( 1976012 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @11:18PM (#47381371)
    Until grants provide funding for reproducing old results, publishing a paper will remain the first step in getting the work reproduced. Typically by someone who needs the technique/result for their own work.
  • Re:How? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday July 04, 2014 @12:20AM (#47381549) Homepage

    Worse than that. It's blind faith in circular belief in truth. You get just enough people saying it and it becomes "a number of people" and suddenly a critical mass of people are making or supporting the claim and it becomes "truth." This is a general understanding of how lies become truth all over. Such common lies are "god" and "global warming." Deny either of those (among others) and you will be attacked politically. Observe as I get modded down because I dared mention god or global warming as lies.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday July 04, 2014 @01:42AM (#47381769) Homepage

    Exactly. This.

    The road to scientist's Hell is paved with journal articles that eventually have been shown to be incorrect. Just because it's published doesn't mean it's gospel. It is Science after all, not religion - even if half of Slashdot seems to think they're one in the same.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday July 04, 2014 @05:24AM (#47382289)

    There are some islands of honest and competent conferences and reviewers, but they are usually in not very well known events. All that is mainstream, "Tier-I" conferences and Journals are fundamentally corrupt. I mostly left research for the same reason, but I occasionally still publish something these days. The difference is that I publish if I have something good and interesting, not when some stupid research administrator thinks I should have more papers. And I publish in a venue where I respect the people running the conference even if that gives a lot less scientific "reputation".

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday July 04, 2014 @11:06AM (#47383665) Homepage Journal

    Peer reviewed. Yeah, right. And just who is reviewing the peers?

    Ha! I knew the denialists would come swarming out of the woodwork on this one.

    Consider the stem cell paper that we're talking about here. It was published in January and immediately started going down in flames. Here we are six months later, watching scientists gleefully kick the cold corpse of the authors' reputations. And you're still wondering who keeps the reviewers and editors of a scientific journal honest?

    Peer review isn't some kind of certification of a paper's truth. It can't reliably weed out misconduct, experimental error, or statistical bad luck. It's just supposed to reduce the frequency of fiascos like this one by examining the reasoning and methods as described in the paper. It doesn't have to be perfect; in fact it's preferable for it to let the occasional clunker through onto the slaughterhouse floor than to squelch dissenting views or innovation.

    That's why climate change denialists still get published today, even the ones who disbelieve climate change because it contravenes their view of the Bible. Peer review allows them to keep tugging at the loose threads of the AGW consensus while preventing them from publishing papers making embarrassingly broad claims for which they don't have evidence that has any chance of convincing someone familiar with the past fifty years of furious scientific debate.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"