The scandal has raised bigger questions about the integrity of research regulation in Australia.
A science journal’s decision to keep a study about fish published despite findings it was fraudulent has scientists concerned about the integrity and teeth of research regulation in Australia.
We recently published a piece in defence of how Australian institutions handle allegations of research misconduct and act upon them. This story in the Crickey web magazine highlights that all is not well in this space. We remain concerned that institutions and research publications have an intolerable conflict of interest when it comes to reporting publicly findings of research misconduct. One can only feel that these bodies can be more concerned about protecting their reputations rather than safeguarding the academic record. When handling and responding to alleged research misconduct, an investigation cannot serve two masters.
The paper in question was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences in 2016 by marine ecologists Danielle Dixson of University of Delaware (previously of James Cook University) and Anna Scott of Southern Cross University, as reported by Science. It was one of 22 studies published between 2008 and 2018 that allegedly used dodgy data to document dramatic behavioural change in fish exposed to increases in CO2.
Dixson’s James Cook University PhD supervisor, the now retired Philip Munday, is at the centre of complaints. In an email to Crikey, Munday said he had “no involvement” with the paper.
An independent investigation by the University of Delaware found that three of Dixson’s papers required retraction on the basis of research misconduct — namely duplicated data and an impossible number of experiments in the time frame reported.
The panel also found a broader pattern of “sloppiness, poor recordkeeping, copying and pasting within spreadsheets, [and] errors within many papers under investigation”, but its requests for retraction were ignored by the journal on the basis that its own “detailed two-stage investigation” was (not clean, but …) not dirty enough to warrant retraction.