Thursday, August 2, 2012

Peer Review

Dr. Yoshitaka Fujii seems well on his way to becoming the patron saint of scientific fraudsters, setting a record for the most extensive output of fake data. As near as anyone can work out, Fujii started making up data with abandon some time in the 1990s. By 2000, his fellow researchers were already on to him, publishing a comment in which they noted, "We became skeptical when we realized that side effects were almost always identical in all groups."

But you can't let such skepticism from your peers slow you down-and Fujii certainly didn't. Even after the comment was published, two different medical schools hired him as a faculty member. He continued to publish, generally using faked data, racking up an eventual record of 200+ bogus papers.

Nobody took any responsibility for investigating the prospect of fraud, despite requests made by other researchers who suspected something was amiss. It took until 2011 for the editors of several journals that were victimized by Fujii to band together and hire an outside investigator, who found extensive evidence that the data reported by Fujii was unlikely to have resulted from actual experiments.

The peer review process purported to be the basis of much of science's validation process is not what it should be - in the end, we all have to sort through the messy human-ness of science on our own.

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