Saturday, March 17, 2012

Being Honest In Science Really Ain't That Hard

Two quick media pieces involving truth-telling caught my attention this week. Some friends on Facebook circulated this Marketplace story about utterly false claims about working conditions Apple's factories in China which appeared on the public radio show This American Life (retraction here). In short: blech.

The other story dealt with issues of scientific integrity and generated interest only among a small group of specialists, but it's no less disturbing. The details, which can be found here on the awesome Retraction Watch blog, describe the story of Marya Zilberberg, a physician health services researcher at UMass Amherst whose review paper on ventilator-associated pneumonia was plagiarized in the Journal of Clinical Monitoring and Computing. As you read the details, it's pretty obvious that there's no way the authors could innocently explain away a borrowed sentence here or there: whole paragraphs are lifted verbatim, and Doc Zilberberg's work is never cited. It's theft, pure and simple.

Now, as a quick perusal of Retraction Watch will show, plagiarism and other intellectually dishonest shenanigans ain't such a rare occurrence in the world of scientific research. But what makes this story stand out in terms of its flabbergasticity is that the editors of Journal of Clinical Monitoring and Computing seem not to have been bothered by the plagiarism one bit. Indeed, as of this writing the link to the offending paper is still live here, i.e. the editors did not feel it necessary to retract the paper for its clear-cut offenses. That's astonishing! Does Springer, Inc. the parent company that publishes JCM&C and does nearly one billion Euro in business annually really want to sanction this kind of behavior? If so, wow indeed.

Except for the Bircher wing of the Republican party (i.e. that lovable group so often referred to as "the base"), most people still trust physicians and scientists because these professions are built on integrity and honesty. We look the other way at cases like the plagiarism of Dr. Zilberberg's work at our peril.

UPDATE: Eagle-eyed readers of BRB noted that the story uncovering the lies of Mike Daisey in his coverage of Apple Inc. came from Marketplace, not Media Matters, as I had written in the original. The correct attribution appears above.

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