A new dimension in publishing ethics: social media-based ethics-related accusations

Publication Date12 Aug 2019
AuthorJaime A. Teixeira da Silva,Judit Dobránszki
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information & communications technology
A new dimension in publishing
ethics: social media-based
ethics-related accusations
Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva
Independent Researcher, Kagawa-ken, Japan, and
Judit Dobránszki
Research Institute of Nyíregyháza, IAREF, University of Debrecen,
Nyíregyháza, Hungary
Purpose Whistle-blowing, which has become an integral part of the post-publication peer-review
movement, is being fortied by social media. Anonymous commenting on blogs as well as Tweets about
suspicions of academicmisconduct can spread quickly on social mediasites like Twitter. The purpose of this
paper is to examine two cases to expand the discussion about how complexpost-publication peer review is
and to contextualizethe use of social media within this movement.
Design/methodology/approach This paper examines a Twitter-based exchange between an
established pseudonymous bloggerand science critic, Neuroskeptic, and Elizabeth Wager, the former COPE
Chair, within a wider discussion of the use of social media in post-publication peer review. The paper also
discusses false claims made on Twitter by another science watchdog, Leonid Schneider. The policies of 15
publishersrelated to anonymous or pseudonymous whistle-blowingare examined.
Findings Four issues in the NeuroskepticWagercase were debated: the solicitation by Wager to publish
in RIPR; the use of commercial software by Neuroskeptic to make anonymousreports to journals; the links
between publication ethicsleaders and whistle-blowers or pseudonymous identities; the issues of
transparency and possible hidden conicts of interest. Only one publisher (Wiley) out of 15 scientic
publishers examinedclaimed in its ofcial ethical guidelines that anonymous reports should be investigated
in the same way as named reports,while three publishers (Inderscience, PLOSand Springer Nature) referred
to the COPE guidelines.
Originality/value No such Twitter-based case has yet been examinedin detail in the publishing ethics
Keywords Social media, Twitter, Academic publishing, Anonymity, Cronyism, Conict of interest,
Paper type Viewpoint
Twitter at the science-ethics frontier
Digital technology and socialmedia have the potential to transform at least some aspects of
academicsactivities. Social media serves as one way to educate academics about issues in
The authors thank Professor Keith M. Kendrick (Key Laboratory for Neuroinformation, School of Life
Science and Technology, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, PR
China) for clarication about the validity of the claims made in the Leonid Schneider Tweets.
Conicts of interest: The rst author has been proled at or by Retraction Watch and PubPeer and
was banned from commenting by Leonid Schneider at his blog forbetterscience. Apart from this,
the authors declare no other conicts of interest. All screenshots under the fair-use agreement
(Teixeira da Silva,2015a, 2015b).
Received29 May 2018
Revised2 October 2018
Accepted12 January 2019
Journalof Information,
Communicationand Ethics in
Vol.17 No. 3, 2019
pp. 354-370
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JICES-05-2018-0051
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
science and academics, including science publishing. Social media, in particular Twitter, is
still not widely used by scientists and is being used to some extent for professional
discussion and conversation, peer engagement, communication with the public and science
literacy (Collins et al.,2016;Shah and Cox, 2017;Timilsina et al., 2017). Twitter has also
become part of an academics need to seek alternative forms of dissemination, recognition
and can serve as an alternative metric, or altmetric,with the number of Tweets related to a
paper reecting its popularity (Eysenbach, 2011;Thelwall et al.,2013;Nicholas et al.,2017;
Alshahrani and Rasmussen Pennington, 2018). There has even been the suggestion of a
Twitter-based journal[1].
What is less discussed,because few quantitative studies exist on this topic, is howsocial
media is being used in post-publication peer review (PPPR) and the correction of the
literature via public social media-mediated whistle-blowing (Chatterjee and Biswas, 2011;
Knoeper, 2015;Teixeira da Silva, 2015a;Yeo et al., 2017;Sugawara et al.,2017). There are
also opinions that social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, might not be a good solution
for conducting PPPR[2], even though it serves as a perfect medium for calling out
misconduct (Gross, 2016). A 2015 guideline[3] published by the Committee on Publication
Ethics (COPE) and BioMed Central(BMC) gives the impression that whistle-blowing and the
anonymous or pseudonymous reportingof errors in the literature, and possible misconduct,
is becoming more widespread by using centralized blogs and websites such as PubPeer[4]
and Retraction Watch[5]. Twitter thus serves two purposes for academics, to positively
promote ones own research and ndings and to draw attention to other academics of
positive and negative aspects related to the published literature and, thus, fullls the basic
requirements of PPPR, that is, both to promote and to critiquethe published literature, with
the latter category ultimately allowing for the correction of the literature (Teixeira da Silva
et al.,2017;Peterson, 2018). Although in some cases victorious claims about the success of
PPPR can be made, as occurred in the Brian Wansink case[6], the issue of data thuggery
introduces a new dimension to the art of PPPR, and the sensitive argument whether it is
possible to balance politically correct criticism, especially of academic superheroes, and the
harsh realities of claims madein public that challenge published ndings that can, within a
relatively short period of time,destroy the legendary status of apparently reputable leading
academics (Teixeirada Silva et al.,2016).
This paper focuses primarily on a case that involved a set of Tweets in 2017 between a
pseudonymous science critic and a long-standingmember of the ethics community, with the
purpose of assessing the challenges in making claims in public about the ethical status of
the published literature without publicly supported evidence. The paper also examines the
risks of using Twitter to make false accusations, focusing on a separate case of a science
The NeuroskepticWager Twitter-based negotiation
A prominent pseudonymous science critic, Neuroskeptic (Teixeira da Silva, 2017a), uses
Twitter[7] and his blog[8] as platforms to primarily critique papers and to commentwidely
about issues in science, academia and publishing. Several of Neuroskeptics views are
thought-provoking and worthy of reection. There are other examples of similar Twitter-
based anonymous or pseudonymous PPPR-style accounts[9]. Neuroskeptic appears to have
been a staff or faculty member workingat Bristol University (UK), as assessed by clues in a
2015 YouTube video on p-hacking[10]. It is unclear how much time was spent by
Neuroskeptic during working hours Tweeting, or conducting pseudonymous whistle-
blowing and/or PPPR, even though it is possible that such activity may have been an
academic responsibility. A blog post at the end of 2017[11] suggests that Neuroskepticmay
A new
dimension in

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