A question of professional responsibility

I’m interested in other professionals’ opinions on this general sort of situation.

You reviewed a journal submission containing a pattern of serious falsification of the research record, much of which is essential to the manuscript’s main argument.

This is not a close call: it’s dead simple to demonstrate that material falsification has occurred. Given its scale and scope, the only remotely plausible explanation includes gross incompetence, dishonesty, or some combination thereof.

By the standards of any research “code of conduct” you’ve ever read, this performance undoubtedly qualifies as scholarly misconduct.

The manuscript is technically unpublished. But because you keep up on developments in the field, you later learn that it has since been uploaded to a well-known online repository, where it has been downloaded many times. The pattern of serious falsification remains.

The authors are professional researchers at universities. You politely inform them of the problem. They ignore it.

In this sort of situation, do you have a professional responsibility to take any further action regarding their scholarly misconduct? Why or why not?

Very curious to hear what you think!

4 Replies to “A question of professional responsibility

  1. Does anyone know if the APA has a branch that one could report such a thing too? It would be good if journals had a coordinated way of flagging a paper in cases like this. Do they?

  2. (David Sobel the psychologist here): American Psychological Association has an ethics hotline, which is useful in cases like this (I’m assuming that the investigation uses some kind of psychological method). The hotline is usually for clinical violations, but it is applicable to the entire field. This could prevent publication at least in an APA-run journal, and if the manuscript is published elsewhere, then other actions might follow. One can also write a rebuttal, posted on the same preprint site, linking to the preprint that these authors published. Given that so many people in my field treat preprints as publications (even though they are not peer-reviewed), I see both of these actions as scientifically responsible.

  3. That’s very helpful, Dave, thanks! I had no idea that the American Psychological Association had a hotline of that sort (or any sort, really).

    I agree that posting a rebuttal to the preprint site would be a perfectly responsible thing to do. I haven’t looked into how the hotline is run, but I assume it has safeguards in place to prevent frivolous charges and abuse, in which case I’d also agree on that being a responsible option too.

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