Coming back from disgrace
The tragic suicide of Yoshiki Sasai, one of the authors of the retracted STAP stem-cell paper (discussed in the Letter from the Chair in the August 2014 edition of COPE Digest), highlights the fact that, above all, the communication of research is about people and about trust. Some researchers are seemingly able to bounce back from a finding of serious research misconduct. For example, Hwang Woo-suk was last year granted a patent related to stem-cells. However, for other researchers in such a situation it is the end of their careers. Some may argue that that is no bad thing; researchers who commit serious research misconduct have no place in research. Contrast that with the situation when a crime is committed. Most places, when a crime is committed, punishment results, and after some time that person is allowed back into society. Indeed, in some jurisdictions, if the crime was not severe, after some period following expiry of the sentence a “spent conviction” may be recorded. That is, history of the misdeed will be erased.
Back to our context:
- If your journal knew that one of the authors of a submitted paper had previously been found to have committed serious research misconduct, would you agree to review the paper?
- If you did agree to review the paper, and the author asks for blind reviewing as he/she could not otherwise be assured of an unbiased process, would you agree to the request (assuming you don’t have blind reviewing already). This was a recent COPE case.
- Flowing from that, should there be a process for researchers who have had a finding of serious research misconduct to be reaccepted as researchers worthy of consideration as authors?