Scientific Reproducibility and the Retraction Crisis: The Case of Cancer Research
Boston Cancer Policy Institute Working Paper No. 1, Version 2, May 2013
Posted: 2 Jun 2013
Date Written: May 31, 2013
Open innovation and collaborative research including through international consortium institutions are generating important issues in life science fields. There are special difficulties in addressing the current science and technology issues by reinforcing the existing therapeutics and diagnostics development system. In case of cancer research, the tumor sample is limited, while predictability and validation of preclinical research require scientists to allocate additional attentions both to scientific research and operations. In this context, we discuss whether it is wise for the science community to treat positive paper retractions, such as those caused by scientific reproducibility issues the same as those caused by misconduct. It is possible that overly aggressive retractions of papers are removing important evidence from knowledge accumulation. Connectivity and recoupling are sources of knowledge creation that have a potential for generating new hypotheses, mechanisms and discoveries.
In this paper, we focus on peer-reviewed science paper publications. We set up a research question exploring whether cancer research retractions are following the general pattern of peer reviewed paper retractions. A prior paper (Fang, et. al. 2012) showed that the majority of peer reviewed science paper retractions in the field of biomedical and life science were caused by misconduct. In contrast to them, we found several pieces of evidence that cancer and cancer biomarker research are not following the general trends. There are several authors who retracted their papers proactively because of reproducibility issues. Among them, several could have failed even if they followed the scientific methodology and practices with the best knowledge at the timings of their submissions. Treating such papers the same as retractions rooted in misconduct will lead to the removal of important scientific evidence from the field where knowledge networks and recoupling are crucial.
On the side of scientific journals, several initiatives have started. For example, the Reproducibility Initiative makes it a rule to have models confirmed by other independent teams. At the same time, we propose for the science community to rethink the positive retraction issue and keep open the possibility that some papers with reproducibility issues might be rescued from hatchet-like retraction policies.
Keywords: Science reproducibility, Retraction crisis, Publication policy
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