Committee relieves specialist journal in stem cell counterfeiting scandal
An independent panel of experts has now presented the final report on the publication process surrounding the falsified work by stem cell researcher Hwang. The publication by Hwang and colleagues in the journal Science, which has since been exposed as a fraud and has been withdrawn, led to a highly publicized scandal. Now, a six-person investigative team led by Stanford University chemist John Brauman finds that the erroneous publication was carefully reviewed prior to publication, in accordance with the journal's high standards.
Errors or omissions by reviewers or editors were not found in retrospect. At the time, the work was "much more critically examined than any work I've ever been involved in," said Brauman at a press conference on the subject.
The journal Science was deliberately deceived at great expense, the final report goes on to say. The authors, who also include well-known stem cell researchers, fear that such fraudulent intentions will probably not be unmasked by any realistically manageable system with any guarantee in the future either.
Science should nevertheless work in cooperation with other renowned specialist journals on a revised, standardized procedure with which attempts at forgery could be deterred from publication and recognized with a higher probability. The procedure should include risk management, for example, in the context of which work of high relevance and expected to have great scientific and social explosive power should be checked particularly precisely. The journals should definitely insist on careful inspection of unprocessed raw data and specify in detail which contributions the individual authors and co-authors have made. Had these mechanisms been in place in the case of the Hwang publication, the fraud might have been exposed, says Brauman.
In a statement, Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science, announces talks with other journals about adopting some of the Commission's proposals. A dialogue with the scientific community is indispensable, because an even more intensive examination costs time and money and will in individual cases "lead to conflicts with the authors", Kennedy quotes from Browman's final report. However, the specialist journal has to face up to this challenge in view of the increasingly sophisticated possibilities of producing counterfeits. (yo)