Boffey, Philip M. "Study Accusing Researchers of Inaccuracies Is Published," New York Times,
15 January 1987, p. A18.
This is a notice, in the Times, that Nature has published an article in which two researchers,
Walter Stewart and Ned Feder, of NIH, accuse some pretty prominent scientists at Harvard and
Emory of publishing false and misleading papers. This notice also relates something of the
history of the article. It seems to have been circulating in the scientific underground for the past
three years and has been denied publication in dozens of magazines, including Nature, which
now does publish it. But it has been published in bowdlerized form, only after the names have
been removed and some of the scandal deleted. This is a paper which tells the scientific
community that cheating, dishonesty, fraud, and so on, may be much more common than we
think. Nature has, by cutting the more offensive aspects of the paper, minimized the threat of
suits by slandered senior scientists. Moreover, Nature is now publishing the thing as a response
to the accusation, thrown up by the authors, that the scientific community is suppressing their
work, that they are being censored by a powerful few at Harvard.
As described here, the authors have examined the co-authored articles of the known cheat, John
R. Darsee, with an eye to seeing whether his co-authors should have realized that he was a fake.
What they find is that the papers of Darsee are obviously faked and contain inconsistencies and
errors which co-authors should have discovered. They conclude that the authors did not evidence
caution and were, if nothing else, lazy in the extreme.
Several of the co-authors have resented the implications of the article. They have threatened legal
action. As a result, the journals have been reluctant to accept the piece. Stewart and Feder sent a
copy to every member of the National Science Foundation in 1986. Eventually, the article grew
into a scandal in itself. This is what Nature has now responded to.
The Nature article is accompanied by an editorial and by a reply/response by Eugene Braunwald.
In his two page rebuttal, Braunwald notes that the errors the authors identify are "wholly trivial"
and "have nothing to do with scientific misconduct."
"The Nature editorial notes that the Stewart-Feder study examined only a small sample of papers
and scientists, all involved in an exceptional fraud case. But it suggested that ‘errors of all kinds
listed are far from being rare' in scientific journals. It attributed such errors to be ‘pressures to
publish' many papers in order to qualify for promotions, and called for more discriminating ways
to evaluate scientists."