Another Kind of Scientific Literature

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This is a lawsuit filed by Wayne State University cancer researcher Fazlul Sarkar making claims of defamation against the authors of anonymous posts published on the PubPeer online journal club website. It’s quite a read. Ivan Oransky has published a commentary here. Meanwhile, PubPeer has been sent a notice of subpoena to produce evidence that would allow the authors of the PubPeer comments to be identified.

The lawsuit claims that the comments, which largely concern the origins of gel images appearing in papers from Sarkar’s lab, effectively accuse Sarkar of research misconduct. Sarkar claims damages related to losses he suffered resulting from the decision by University of Mississippi to rescind a very lucrative job offer it had made to him.

As of this writing, Sarkar has never been found responsible for research misconduct. However, it’s hard to understand Mississippi’s decision unless the people there thought there was substance to the damaging implications of the PubPeer comments. Clearly, those comments have to be taken seriously as part of the literature of science whose effect (and function) is to blunt the confidence readers have in certain peer-reviewed papers.

Equally, as one intended function of Sarkar’s lawsuit must be to resharpen that confidence and thereby influence what people actually believe about science, it must also be regarded as another kind of scientific literature.

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