WASHINGTON — A top scientific journal plans to adopt some stricter safeguards against fraud, in wake of a headline-grabbing South Korean cloning sham exposed a year ago.
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The journal Science did subject the now-discredited studies to extra scrutiny before publishing them in 2004 and 2005, and correctly followed standard checks for signs of problems, concluded an independent review released Tuesday.
There is no way to completely prevent deliberate fraud, the reviewers cautioned.
But increasingly fierce scientific competition plus “the cachet of publishing in Science” create incentives for dishonesty that will require new steps to try to catch and deter, the report found.
“We’re concerned that science continued to be viewed by the public as an enterprise in which truth is paramount,” said Dr. John Brauman, a Stanford University chemist who headed the review requested by the journal.
Topping the recommendations, to Science and other high-profile journals: Identify “high-risk” papers — such as studies of intense public interest or that may affect political policies — for special scrutiny. That might include demanding original data to back up a paper’s conclusions, or interviewing co-authors about their role in the research.
Journal editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy welcomed what he called “some tough advice,” and said staffers were figuring out how to implement it.
He estimated that only about 10 studies a year would be important enough for the extra vigilance. Science received roughly 12,000 submissions in 2005 and published about 8 percent that passed an expert review.
Still, Kennedy acknowledged the stricter measures probably wouldn’t have caught what a Seoul National University probe eventually concluded was an elaborate fraud.
South Korea’s Hwang Woo-suk claimed to have extracted stem cells from a cloned human embryo, and to have created stem cells genetically matched to specific patients. Science retracted the articles last winter.
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