Ethics body questions Cell

A UK ethics organization that focuses on fairness and honesty in scientific publication has lent some support to researchers who complained that a 2008 __Cell__ linkurl:paper;http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(08)00680-6 failed to adequately recognize their work and includes substandard experimentation. But the gesture seems unlikely to result in any concrete action regarding the researchers' complaints. The London-based Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has weighed in on the row invo

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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Feb 22, 2009
A UK ethics organization that focuses on fairness and honesty in scientific publication has lent some support to researchers who complained that a 2008 __Cell__ linkurl:paper;http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(08)00680-6 failed to adequately recognize their work and includes substandard experimentation. But the gesture seems unlikely to result in any concrete action regarding the researchers' complaints. The London-based Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has weighed in on the row involving University of Cambridge biologist linkurl:Peter Lawrence;http://www.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/PAL/ and several colleagues, editors at __Cell__, and Stanford University developmental biologist linkurl:Jeffrey Axelrod;http://www.stanford.edu/group/axelrodlab/index.shtml after another journal involved in the fracas sought the body's advice. Lawrence and his colleagues claim that Axelrod's __Cell__ paper, which dealt with the genetic and cellular machinery underlying planar cell polarity (PCP), did not properly cite a 2004 __Development__ paper coauthored by Lawrence. They wrote letters to __Cell__ detailing their problems with the Axelrod paper and requesting the journal to publish the letters or a...
8 __Cell__ linkurl:paper;http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(08)00680-6 failed to adequately recognize their work and includes substandard experimentation. But the gesture seems unlikely to result in any concrete action regarding the researchers' complaints. The London-based Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has weighed in on the row involving University of Cambridge biologist linkurl:Peter Lawrence;http://www.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/PAL/ and several colleagues, editors at __Cell__, and Stanford University developmental biologist linkurl:Jeffrey Axelrod;http://www.stanford.edu/group/axelrodlab/index.shtml after another journal involved in the fracas sought the body's advice. Lawrence and his colleagues claim that Axelrod's __Cell__ paper, which dealt with the genetic and cellular machinery underlying planar cell polarity (PCP), did not properly cite a 2004 __Development__ paper coauthored by Lawrence. They wrote letters to __Cell__ detailing their problems with the Axelrod paper and requesting the journal to publish the letters or a short review by Lawrence. __Cell__ editors instead suggested that Lawrence and his colleagues post their concerns in comments to the journal's website. Editors at __Development__ turned to COPE concerning __Cell__'s handling of the complaints. COPE is composed mostly of editors-in-chief from leading scientific journals and publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis and the BMJ Publishing Group. Editors from both __Cell__ and __Development__ are members of COPE. COPE told __Development__ that journal editors should "encourage debate" and publish "cogent criticisms of published work," according to linkurl:__Times Higher Education__,;http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=405435&c=1 which obtained a copy of COPE's advice. "I'm glad that __Development__ brought the issue up with COPE," Lawrence told __The Scientist__. But he noted that the organization's deliberations were not made public, and that he does not expect __Cell__ to take any action. COPE added that scientists should air complaints against published manuscripts via online comments "if nothing else is available," but implied that such comments carry less weight because they are not citable in scientific literature and usually do not carry digital identification numbers. COPE also advised researchers in Lawrence's position to carry complaints to a "higher authority," such as journal publishers or scientific societies. Stanford said in a statement sent to __Times Higher Education__ and obtained by __The Scientist__ that "In the matter of Chen el al [sic] (Cell, June 13, 2008), the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs initiated a preliminary assessment of the claims made against Dr. Axelrod. A review of the papers in question was conducted by a scientific expert knowledgeable of but uninvolved with the research. The preliminary assessment concluded that there is no credible evidence of scientific misconduct and therefore determined no further action is warranted." When questioned as to the identity of the "scientific expert" who conducted the literature review and the timing of the inquiry, Stanford told __The Scientist__ that "As per Stanford policy, the preliminary assessment conducted into the allegations against Dr. Axelrod is a confidential process. We have nothing further to add to our previous statement." "I would certainly find the response from Stanford insufficiently transparent and superficial," Lawrence said. Lawrence said he has considered contacting other independent science groups, such as the International Council for Science and the UK's Office of Research Integrity. "I don't think we can go much further," he said, adding that he worries that it will appear as he is making a fuss simply for selfish purposes, and "that it will look like we're getting too upset about something when there are so many important things going on in the world." Lawrence noted that his complaints were meant to draw attention to what he called a developing trend towards "papersmanship," where researchers "annex the work of others" and "pretend their own work is more novel than it really is" in order to get their papers published in high-profile journals. "I see this kind of behavior almost becoming institutionalized and accepted," he said. "The more people who do that and get rewarded for it, the more prevalent the practice will become." Editors at __Development__ and __Cell__ declined to comment on this issue.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Critics rip Cell paper;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55240/
[25th November 2008]*linkurl:The Ethics Of Citation: A Matter Of Science's Family Values;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/17598/
[9th June 1997]

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