That said, the more general issue confronting Scientist A — suspecting a misstep in the published work of colleagues and being uncertain of how to effectively deal with it — is not that unusual in the world of science.
Errors that compromise the research literature, even just unintentional mistakes, continue to be a major problem, after all.
“The leaders did not want to retract their earlier research and the postdoc was not willing to risk a career,” Steneck said.
Dozens of the unreliable articles remain in the published literature, and while most experts in the field know that, outsiders may not have a clue.
Scientists are supposed to rigorously look at all the evidence bearing upon a question and evaluate it openly, so that others can assess whether their conclusions are right.
“If you’re concealing some piece of information that undermines the case that you’re making, then clearly you’re not being transparent,” Parker said — and that, to him, potentially smells of misconduct.
Calling out others’ possible research blunders can be risky, and reluctance to do it is understandable.
Those who wish to take action need to first take stock of how certain they are of their own conclusions, of course.
Scientist A further notes that although their older research reports clearly mentioned the shift to the newer census method, the more recent studies by Scientists B and C haven’t acknowledged it.
That includes a new report this year that ignored other published work pointing out the importance of the change in methods.