Post-publication Peer Review with an Intention to Uncover Data/result Irregularities and Potential Research Misconduct in Scientific Research: Vigilantism or Volunteerism?

Science and Engineering Ethics 29 (4):1-14 (2023)
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Irregularities in data/results of scientific research might be spotted pre-publication by co-workers and reviewers, or post-publication by readers typically with vested interest. The latter might consist of fellow researchers in the same subject area who would naturally pay closer attention to a published paper. However, it is increasingly apparent that there are readers who interrogate papers in detail with a primary intention to identify potential problems with the work. Here, we consider post-publication peer review (PPPR) by individuals, or groups of individuals, who perform PPPRs with a perceptible intention to actively identify irregularities in published data/results and to expose potential research fraud or misconduct, or intentional misconduct exposing (IME)-PPPR. On one hand, such activities, when done anonymously or pseudonymously with no formal discourse, have been deemed as lacking in accountability, or perceived to incur some degree of maleficence, and have been labelled as vigilantism. On the other, these voluntary works have unravelled many instances of research misconduct and have helped to correct the literature. We explore the tangible benefits of IME-PPPR in detecting errors in published papers and from the perspectives of moral permissibility, research ethics, and the sociological perspective of science. We posit that the benefits of IME-PPPR activities that uncover clear evidence of misconduct, even when performed anonymously or pseudonymously, outweigh their perceived deficiencies. These activities contribute to a vigilant research culture that manifests the self-correcting nature of science, and are in line with the Mertonian norms of scientific ethos.



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The sociology of science: theoretical and empirical investigations.Robert King Merton - 1973 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Norman W. Storer.
Is Peer Review a Good Idea?Remco Heesen & Liam Kofi Bright - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (3):635-663.
No One Likes a Snitch.Barbara Redman & Arthur Caplan - 2015 - Science and Engineering Ethics 21 (4):813-819.

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