Saturday 16 December 2023

Beware of "bad science" research papers published online

I, for one, use scientific research for information to write articles about domestic and wild cats. I do this because I feel that I can rely upon a scientific research paper for accuracy, for veracity. I want precision and I want to be certain that what I put into my articles is accurate and true. And you can normally rely on science papers to achieve this result. They are peer-reviewed and published in respected online journals.

But there has to be a word of warning based upon a couple of newspaper articles which I read. Here are three reasons why scientific surveys and reports may be misleading:

Fabricated results: a well-known author and researcher produced a study: Evil Genius? How Dishonesty Can Lead to Greater Creativity. The author is a star researcher at Harvard Business School. Her name is Professor Francesca Gino. She's been accused of fabricating results which is ironic seeing as she says that people who lie can be more innovative than their honest peers. She has denied the charges but her research paper has been withdrawn by the publisher.

Biased results: I remember many years ago an Australian or American (I've forgotten) female researcher reporting on bird predation by domestic cats. She was found to have fabricated her results because she was biased against domestic cats. That wouldn't be unsurprising because quite a lot of people are biased against the domestic cat.

Padding out a scientist's CV: Yes, apparently many scientists want to have scientific research projects published in online journals so that they can improve their CV. That's entirely normal except the studies appear to have been churned out by "paper mills". These are described as shadowy operations "that produce fake research". These are sham papers. They are untrue but their purpose is not to be truthful but to add a bit of gloss and shine to the scientists referred to as the authors.

Funded by big business: When the work of scientists conducting a survey or research is funded by big business it is highly likely that the research will be biased in favour of the funding business. Big business does a lot of work with scientists and indeed veterinarians to promote their businesses in an underhand way. When you see, for example, pet food as a veterinary clinic you might ask yourself if it's there because the veterinarian is working in conjunction with the manufacturer rather than the vet having a totally free choice in their selection of foods for sale.

A report from the science journal Nature found that more than 10,000 studies have been withdrawn by scientific publishers in 2023. This is twice as many as the previous year. Some of the studies have promised wondrous changes such as a revolutionary new semiconductor which works in ambient temperatures.

Sadly, these sham research papers have been cited (referred to) in other studies about 40,000 times according to Professor Cabanac of Toulouse University who researched the matter. This taints the information provided by these other studies.

It seems that some of these online journals are not vetting and carefully checking research papers submitted to them. They have poor quality control processes or some of the editors are naïve and have been exploited.

The moral of this story is that people using online research papers need to take caution. In fact that advice can apply to even the good research papers because just because a person is a highly qualified scientist and has a good team behind them does not mean that their work is valuable. I have seen papers on cat behaviour which have indicated to me that the scientists don't know much about cats.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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