The Sceptical Chymist | Blogroll: Exposing fraud

Published in Chemistry

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Editor’s note: As we continue to invite bloggers out there in the wild to compose our monthly Blogroll column, Tom Phillips penned the November 2013 column.


Should bloggers highlight questionable research articles, and if so, how?

Paul Bracher, who blogs at ChemBark, was the first to write about the now infamous “just make up an elemental analysis” paper in Organometallics and he more recently raised questions about some peculiar NMR spectra in Organic Letters. Similarly, Mitch André Garcia of Chemistry Blog brought attention to some questionable TEM images in Nano Letters.

Some have asked whether blogs are an appropriate venue for exposing dubious work. Even Garcia has criticized Bracher for “[losing] sight of the line between witch hunting and the proper responsibilities of the online chemical community”. In defence, Bracher points out that by raising concerns about other scientists’ work publicly, he puts his own reputation and credibility on the line.

Derek Lowe, at In The Pipeline, reflects on who should look for and expose faked papers. Lowe believes that making a public spectacle out of fabricated work acts a deterrent, but he doesn’t intend to turn his blog into the chemical literature police. Instead, he prefers that those most harmed by a suspicious paper challenge it themselves. In a subsequent post commenters debate what action is appropriate for unreproducible papers — suggestions included publishing a rebuttal and simply “turn off your web browser and get back to work”.

Finally, on a less serious note, John Spevacek at It’s a Rheo Thing considers what he would do to win a competition held in Paris at a screening of the Ig Nobel awards show. It’s a competitive take on the pitch drop experiment, in which one must prepare the slowest flowing mixture possible out of kitchen ingredients, but with a catch — it has to drop before the end of the show.

Written by Tom Phillips, who blogs at


[As mentioned in this post, we’re posting the monthly blogroll column here on the Sceptical Chymist. This is the November 2013 article]

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