I was recently taken in by a paper where the authors implied that they were the first to identify one of Gregor Mendel's original genes [see Identity of the Product of Mendel's Green Cotyledon Gene (Update)].
The reason I was sensitized to this issue is because of a similar incident involving a paper published in Cell. Here's an outline of the issue as reported in The Times Higher Education.
It appears that the Cell paper is very misleading. It does not give appropriate credit to the work of other labs.
Peter Lawrence asked if he could publish a letter in Cell but he was told to post comments on the website instead. This is not appropriate. Nobody reads those comments. The author of the suspect Cell paper, Jeffrey Axelrod of Stanford School of Medicine (Palo Alto, CA USA) stands by his publication. The editors of Cell use the common excuse when a journal is caught with it's pants down.
After being sent four of the letters of complaint, Professor Axelrod added on the 6 November: "Our paper (Chen et al, June 2008) underwent a strict process of peer review prior to publication. Concerns about the review process should be directed to Cell. We stand by our conclusions as stated in the paper, as well as by our use of citations."The incident raises a serious question. Is the pressure to publish so great that authors are tempted to deceive editors and reviewers by making their work seem more original and novel than it really is?
Cell declined to respond to questions put by Times Higher Education. However, in a response to the complaint from Professor Lawrence, Cell's senior scientific editor Connie Lee said: "I can only assure you that the reviewers were experts in planar cell polarity and the consensus decision was that the model presented by Chen et al was thought-provoking, well supported and provided a sufficient conceptual advance beyond the existing literature."
This is not a new problem. A few years ago Nature was pressured into publishing an editorial defending its policies against the charge that they were publishing bad science in order to be the first journal to publish "breakthroughs" (Adam and Knight, 2002). The Nature editorial denies that the popular journals are promoting sensationalism.
Editors of leading journals reject the suggestion that standards are slipping in the face of heightened competition. "Nature has nothing to gain by the pursuit of glamour at the expense of scientific quality, considering, not least, the criticisms, corrections and retractions we would then habitually be forced to publish," argued this journal in an editorial comment earlier this month5. And many researchers who were interviewed for this article agree that the system is still working tolerably. If it ain't broke, they say, don't try to fix it.Speaking of the pursuit of glamour, Nature continues its policy of hiring science writers to promote and hype papers that have recently been published in its journal [Human genes are multitaskers].
Adam, D. and Knight, J. (2002) Journals under pressure: Publish, and be damned... Nature 419: 772-774. [doi:10.1038/419772a]