Serious about Scientific Integrity?

Scientific integrity results from a process of critical thinking and peer review. And every day we see that process unfold, often in ways that inspire confidence. Sometimes events leave us scratching our heads.

Such is the case of an analysis published in the Journal of Hypertension more than two years ago. Based upon a meta-analysis, Cesare Cuspidi and colleagues concluded that bariatric surgery provides “important cardioprotective effects” on the structure and function of the heart.

Upon publication of these findings, Kathryn Kaiser and colleagues found potential errors and omissions of sufficient importance to invalidate those conclusions. So they wrote to the authors with their concerns. Their query was “inadvertently discarded” by the authors of the original paper. After two years of subsequent communication, some of the questions remain unresolved and the journal’s editors decided to publish an account of the issues and the difficulty in resolving them.

The wheels of knowledge grind slowly at times.

But the wheels of scientific hype spin quite a bit faster, as Timothy Caulfield notes in a commentary published Thursday by the Toronto Globe and Mail. Caulfield laments the misrepresentation of research findings as “revolutionary” when they fall far short of that superlative:

While the revolution rhetoric may help grab headlines, funding support and market share, in the long term we all benefit from accurate representations of science. Fighting science hype should be viewed as a norm associated with scientific integrity. It won’t be easy to slow the flow of hype. But given the importance of good, trustworthy depictions of science, any step in the right direction is a step worth taking.

Scientific integrity is indeed essential to real scientific progress. Both hype and neglect of scientific rigor get in the way.

Click here for the commentary by Caulfield. Click here for the questions raised by Kaiser et al, here for the response from Cuspidi et al, and here for the original paper.

Integrity, photograph © atalou / flickr

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May 15, 2016

5 Responses to “Serious about Scientific Integrity?”

  1. May 15, 2016 at 10:07 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Yes, but some – – serve as our conscience. Thank you Ted.

    “Scotty – there is intelligent life down here!”

  2. May 16, 2016 at 7:50 am, Mary-Jo Overwater said:

    The number of journals has grown exponentially in the past 25 years. This has to affect the number and scope of ‘scientific’ articles that get published and the rigor that’s required to get accepted. I appreciate the importance of specialties and how great it is to get specifics on diseases, conditions, procedures, treatments, etc., but perhaps it’s time to have a look at the benefits vs. drawbacks of such a proliferation of journals.

    • May 16, 2016 at 11:05 am, Ted said:

      Likewise, careful attention to the credibility of some journals with low standards is warranted. I am grateful for sophisticated readers and folks like who monitor issues of scientific integrity in peer-reviewed literature. Thanks, Mary-Jo.

  3. May 16, 2016 at 12:59 pm, Jonathan Dugas said:

    David Allison’s group, at UAB I think, published a weekly research round up called “Obesity and Energetics Offerings.

    One of the sections is “Headline vs. Study,” in which they link to the lay article about study as well as the actual study. It’s a fantastic example of how hype of science in action!

    High recommend subscribing to the list.

    • May 16, 2016 at 4:36 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Jonathan. You’re right. The weekly OEO is outstanding!