4

I'm third co-author on a paper that was re-submitted for publication after primary author redid data analyses when I discovered that our original data had been significantly flawed. A month or so went by, and then I simply was sent notification of the new submission, without ever notifying me, and giving me no chance to review it or suggest changes. I found changes in the wording of the Conclusions which I disagree with, and when I checked a particular citation which the first paragraph in the Conclusion section was based upon, I discovered that the citation is a gross misrepresentation of what the cited person said. The cited person has told me by email and phone that the citation is "bogus" - it is false information, and not in any way derived from her scholarship.

Here is an analogue of the citation, but I changed the name, and it is not about car drivers: "Jones (1989) reported that no medical evidence exists to indicate that one sex possesses a significant physical advantage over the other in the relevant skills necessary to be a racing car driver."

The first paragraph of the Conclusion goes like this: "This is in spite of biological and medical evidence that indicates no readily apparent comparative advantage for male racing car drivers. In fact, female car drivers appear to have a relative advantage over males in number of physical characteristics important for racing car driving success."

The reality is that there actually IS biological/medical evidence that males have advantages in Reaction Times and upper body strength necessary for steering under adverse circumstances.

The person who was misquoted never even mentioned racing car drivers, and told me to please remove any mention of her from the paper.

I asked the co-authors to retract the paper before it was sent out to reviewers, and they refused. The senior author mentioned that he had cited the author in a previous publication, and that it was merely a case of unintentional "sloppy writing" - and that he would remove the citation after getting responses from the reviewers.

They did not want to be embarrassed by having to pull the paper back a second time.

I told them they were subverting the Peer Review Process by knowingly submitting Research findings which did not exist, and which were patently and provably false.

I told them that the citation obviously was one of the lynchpins of their argument that there are zero physical differences which could account for differing race results, and that the relatively poorer race outcomes for females must therefore be supporting evidence of gender bias against female racing car drivers, and that this bogus research finding might sway the reviewers in deeming their conclusion to be appear internally valid, when it was not.

They disagreed, and asserted that it was little more than a typical editorial problem which they would solve in the normal way, by making changes after the inevitable suggestions for revision from the referees. I had pointed out a number of other problems which I had - including the absence of summary descriptive statistics of winning percentages in the Results section, and they said we could discuss all these other problems which I found later, before final submission.

They apologized for their oversight in not notifying me, asked me to be "patient" and trust that there was no malfeasance here, offered to include me in all subsequent revisions, and suggested that I was welcome to ask to have my name removed from the paper if I still disagreed.

Soon after, the virus pandemic started, I fell ill (not from covid-19) and decided to just let the matter drop until reviewer feedback emerged.

And now, a month later, I received copies of notifications from a virtual conference that they were presenting their "working paper" - and the working paper is exactly the same as the one they submitted to the professional journal. That paper has been sent to 8 people via CC.

No changes, the exact same FALSE claim about scientific medical evidence - which turns out to be non-existent, and actually in the opposite direction.(Note: what especially bothers me is that they cited a paper which discussed potential advantages of females regarding size and flexibility, but which also specifically mentioned male physical advantages related to reaction time and strength. They could not possibly have read the paragraph they cited without seeing the cited advantages of reaction time and strength, the reality of which they denied three times throughout the paper, but especially in the key Concluding statement).

I complained again, repeated my accusations of unethical academic misconduct, and asked them to retract the paper for proper editing. They apologized, and respectfully disagreed with my conclusions, and told me it was necessary for them to obtain addition feedback from fellow professionals in this conference, and that this was a part of the Peer Review process, that it would not look good, and that I should just be patient and Trust the Process.

I have told them that it is misconduct to disrespect the wishes of the author whose work they misrepresented, and refuse to remove her name from their paper.

I told them it is misconduct to knowingly present FALSE evidence and FALSE conclusions to a group of conference attendees who will likely just accept their authority - AND their conclusions - and who will likely share with other people the false belief that there is zero biological or medical evidence of physical advantages for males.

They disagree once again with my conclusions regarding their actions, asked for my patience, and reminded me that I can have my name removed before any final publications.

How can I convince these people who are entrusted with managing a department and teaching young students about ethical science that they have a Blind Spot regarding their own behavior?

Am I the one who is wrong about the ethics of this situation? I have seen reports of people FIRED and careers destroyed for submitting false research data.

I did a search on Google, but can not find any websites which specifically offer me ammunition in explaining why their behavior represents misconduct and a lack of integrity.

Can anybody help, please?

10
  • Can you remove your name from the conference presentation (because it's wrong) but leave it on the paper (that will allegedly be right when it's finally published)? (It's easy for me to talk about removing your name, because I'm old enough that one publication more or less won't make much difference. I realize that you may be at a very different stage of your career, where every publication matters.) Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 21:27
  • Is the mis-cited author, Jones, aware of the unchanged "working paper" being presented at a conference? Is she aware of your effort to get it corrected? Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 21:29
  • 1
    There is probably no answer to your question. Given their behaviour, your coauthors seem impervious to research ethics considerations. Maybe they think that their transgressions won't harm them professionnally, and maybe they are right. You cannot make a donkey drink when it is not thirsty. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 7:39
  • 2
    I think we'll be more able to help if you can refocus the question away from "how can I convince these people they are wrong" and instead towards "what actions should I take to meet my own ethical obligations". Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 18:27
  • 1
    @DavidWhite Unfortunately, the earlier question is about a somewhat different situation, where the problematic part of the conference paper was only minor mistakes. In case you still want to see it, the link is academia.stackexchange.com/questions/85168/… Commented Apr 28 at 18:04

2 Answers 2

1

This question was asked a long time ago, but remains on the unanswered queue. The comments make it clear that the OP wanted "actual documentation that knowingly submitting incorrect statements or citations in your Lit Review and Conclusions is unethical and academic misconduct." Because we don't know what field the OP is in, it's impossible to provide such a statement specifically in their field, but it's easy to find such statements in general, e.g., using Google and phrases like "ethics", "misconduct," and whatever field you're in. Here's a statement I found from the American Statistical Association:

Statisticians are subject to the general moral rules of scientific and scholarly conduct: they should not deceive or knowingly misrepresent or attempt to prevent reporting of misconduct or obstruct the scientific/scholarly research of others.

So, indeed, the situation the OP describes is academic misconduct, if the other two authors "knowingly misrepresented" the cited paper. I've seen this kind of thing happen before, because referees rarely check to ensure that the cited paper's main conclusions match the sentence in the paper describing them. It is entirely possible for the wrong description to sneak past the referee and get published. So it's very good that the OP was trying to prevent that from happening.

If the other authors made an honest mistake (e.g., their idea of what the cited paper says was based on an existing wrong description, and they never actually checked the cited paper), then I agree with their course of action. This mistake is probably easy enough to fix after the referee comes back with a report. Pulling the paper back to fix one sentence in the literature review might annoy the editor and referee more than help. There are lots of questions about how severe an error should be in order to justify pulling back a paper while the referee is reading it.

If the situation was deliberate, then the OP can stop it at the final stage of the publication, which requires the author to physically sign a piece of paper giving the journal permission to publish. At that point, the author could insist the co-authors fix the bad sentence in the literature review. The editor might go back to the referee to check the new sentence, and that could conceivably lead the paper to be unaccepted (but this seems unlikely to me).

As for the co-authors presenting the paper at a conference, I can understand them not wanting to change the paper until after hearing back from the referee, especially if they disagreed with the OP about what the cited paper shows. Getting feedback from other experts is one way to resolve that disagreement. But it's annoying if they did not at least check the OP's objection by reading the cited paper and discussing with the OP whether or not that one line really was incorrect.

I think the OP's concerns that the paper was sent to eight people are a bit overblown. Most academics understand that working papers can change a lot before they are published, and that different parts might have been written by different authors. People won't hold it against the OP. The researcher whose work was misrepresented has a right to be angry, but the OP can demonstrate that they were trying to get the other authors to change this line, and it's a work in progress.

I think the OP would be wise to not remove themselves from the list of authors, for two reasons. First, it's unjust to lose a publication because of bad behavior from the other authors. Second, only by staying on the list of authors can the OP prevent the wrong sentence from getting published.

1
  • You pointed out, in the comments on the question, that I link I gave (also in the comments) had died. That question and its answer had been deleted, but I think they're worth summarizing here. The question was about the situation where one has published a paper and then discovered a error in its methodology that could completely change the conclusion. It asked whether it would be morally correct to submit the paper, unchanged, to a conference. There's one answer, whose essential part (in boldface) is "No. It is not morally correct to do so." [continued in next comment] Commented Apr 28 at 18:26
1

In a comment under the question, David White pointed out that a link I had provided, also in a comment, had died.The linked question and its answer had been deleted by "Community [bot]" after being closed as a duplicate of another question. As I indicated in a later comment, the deleted question was relevant here but the prior question that it duplicated was only about minor errors. So I think it's worth summarizing the relevant question and answer here.

The question was about the situation where one has published a paper and then found an error in its methodology that could completely change the conclusion. The question was whether it would then be morally correct to submit the paper, unchanged, to a conference, with the assumption that the mistake could never be caught.

There is one answer, whose essential part (in boldface) is "No, it is not morally correct to do so." It lists three reasons, which I summarize as: (1) You already know about the error. (2) You could get caught. (3) You're probably just too lazy to repeat all those experiments. (In case anyone cares, I commented that (2) isn't relevant to "morally correct; morality is independent of the probability of getting caught.)

2
  • Great, thanks for sharing for the sake of those of us who do not yet have enough reputation to see deleted questions. Commented Apr 28 at 18:59
  • I think the bot was wrong to have deleted that post. I have undeleted it.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 30 at 4:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .