In February 2012, Nature published the results of a human-genome study at Johns Hopkins Medical School. The paper represented an advancement in our understanding of a key mechanism in cellular aging and cancer. But Daniel Yuan, a former researcher at Hopkins, had his doubts.
He says while he was employed at Hopkins, he raised questions to his colleagues about the methodology used in the study. He felt that the data were not as significant as the researchers let on. In fact, he considered them downright inconclusive. In one email from a superior, he was told they would have to “suck it up and run with what we have.”
After Yuan was fired, the Nature paper was published. Yuan sent his criticism of the study to the journal, as well as to the co-authors of the study. They were given two weeks to respond. One co-author asked for more time draft a response. The next day, another co-author was found dead in his lab of an apparent suicide.
The journal has still not published a correction or response.
Now, without a doubt, the particulars of this study go way over my head. One WaPo commenter suggested that the kind of significance Yuan was looking for in the data was unrealistic, and I of course can’t weigh in on that.
But there’s no question that shoddy research methods and overstated results are verging on an epidemic in the science world. The Washington Post cited research that found “the percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud had increased tenfold since 1975.” And misconduct is the reason behind 67 percent of all retracted biomedical papers.
One reason for the increase in results-fudging is the increased competition for NIH funds, of which Johns Hopkins University receives more than $600 million a year.