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Can any stem-cell paper be trusted?

So, just how untrustworthy is the stem-cell literature? Very, according to one of the field's leading lights, David Shaywitz of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He's the author of linkurl:an op-ed piece;http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/11/AR2006011102040.html that was meant to defend the beleaguered field of stem-cell research, despite linkurl:fraudulent papers;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/browse/blogger/13/date/2006-01/ from the lab of Korean researcher Hwang

By | January 14, 2006

So, just how untrustworthy is the stem-cell literature? Very, according to one of the field's leading lights, David Shaywitz of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He's the author of linkurl:an op-ed piece;http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/11/AR2006011102040.html that was meant to defend the beleaguered field of stem-cell research, despite linkurl:fraudulent papers;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/browse/blogger/13/date/2006-01/ from the lab of Korean researcher Hwang Woo Suk. But in what was almost an aside, Shaywitz dropped a bombshell: **While most in the field of stem cell research were shocked by the reports of fraud, the shock was only one of degree; it is common knowledge that the bar for publication in this field often has appeared remarkably low, with even well-respected research journals seeming to fall over one another for the privilege of publishing the next hot paper. The result of this frenzy has been an entire body of literature that is viewed with extreme skepticism by most serious stem cell investigators.** It was a bombshell to me, anyway. There is plenty of gossip among science journalists about how the top journals--you know who you are--engage in savage battles to be first with the latest in a handful of hot research fields. And that they define **hot** to mean papers that will grab headlines on TV news and in the New York Times. The Scientist's Ivan Oransky brought this topic up in linkurl:his blog;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/22934/ Tuesday. Scientists grumble too, only not usually for quotation. But this is the first time I've seen a prominent researcher declaring that this unseemly competition has cast doubt--not just on an individual paper or two, but on an entire literature. What is to be done? Must stem-cell researchers conduct their own lab peer review, replicating every bit of each others' work before they try to build on it? Are there structural changes at journals that will help ensure that papers are reporting accurately? The editor of Science, linkurl:Donald Kennedy, says;http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/hwang2005/kennedy_20060110_transcript.pdf his journal (which published the two fraudulent Hwang papers, now retracted) is considering adding some measures such as improved image analysis. But overall, he doesn't sound optimistic that procedural safeguards will make much difference. Kennedy goes on to argue that such cases are rare. But that's just the point. If we are to believe Shaywitz, in stem-cell research at least, they are not rare at all.
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