SF Update

It has now been 4 months since the rather unpleasant day on which a (still unknown) individual blew my cover as an anonymous blogger, in an email encouraging everyone who was written about on this site to sue me. This post is to provide a brief update on what has happened in the intervening time, and some pointers to the future.

Regarding legal matters, I am still in receipt of a number of threats to file suit for defamation because of what was posted here in 2012. I cannot reveal anything specific about these threats, particularly their origin. The intention of these threats was to silence me, in classical SLAPP fashion, and it worked.

There are typically two ways to deal with a SLAPP… The first involves refusing to back down, leaving the disputed materials intact, and using theĀ Streisand effect to drive the threatening party into remission. This approach (as espoused by the awesome Ken “PopeHat” White) requires a LOT of effort. The second approach is to back down (even if you’re right) and stay out of trouble. I chose the latter primarily because I have a day job which requires my full attention.

It seems science-fraud.org is not alone any more; both Copy/Shake/Paste and retraction watch (more than once) have recently been targeted with legal threats. While these sites chose to stick it out, I don’t have the resources (time/money/will). This doesn’t mean I think the legal threats leveled at science-fraud.org have any basis in fact, it’s just I have more important things to deal with. Things that pay the bills. Things that don’t result in strange envelopes showing up at my home address. Things that don’t affect my sleep.

Now the good news… the positive feedback I received regarding this site has been nothing short of astonishing. This has come from all corners, including journal editors, colleagues both here and outside, anonymous reporters, junior and senior scientists, government officials, the drug industry, and even people whose work was written about here. In addition my funding situation is now more secure, and my lab continues to thrive, so any fallout from this site does not appear to be affecting my academic career thus far.

Moving forward, I’m working on the generation of an updated database for the 300+ papers flagged on this site during its existence. Last time I looked there had been ~40 retractions and corrections logged as a direct result of this site, and I hope soon to post the complete list of papers in spreadsheet format, with regular updates as necessary.

Beyond that, I’ve been discussing post publication peer review with a lot of people, and we’ve been mulling over several options. There are some issues to deal with first (i.e., incorporation as a non-profit LLC, which affords certain legal privileges), as well as operational details (e.g., how to maintain anonymity and security, who gets notified in advance of materials being posted), as well as the possible pursuit of funding. This is all moving a lot slower than I would like. Clearly there’s a need for websites of this type, but it needs to be done in a way that is not tarnished by the past.

In the mean-time, some other resources have sprung up, such as the excellent PubPeer, for those interested in discussing published works. Hopefully they can avoid the current rash of legal threats that has plagued the science blogosphere.

Paul Brookes