Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Dangerous Precedent

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is demanding the University of Virginia turn over a broad range of documents concerning the climate research of Michael Mann. (See related Washington Post article.) While some question Dr. Mann’s science practices, Mr. Cuccinelli has raised the stakes to a whole new level. As Editor of a journal headquartered in Virginia (AWRA is an Illinois corporation), I  add my voice to the crowd condemning the chilling consequences of this blatant threat to open scientific inquiry. On a hill above Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave!

JAWRA articles typically have dealt with climate change indirectly as, for example, “Given these climate model predictions, here’s what happens to streamflow.” Our coming featured collection on nonstationarity will look at climate as one among many possible factors causing change. If this moves us higher on Mr. Cuccinelli’s concerns, to quote another (mythical) southerner, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.” Rest assured JAWRA will continue to make publishing decisions based upon the quality of the science.

Disclosing Funding Sources

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The New York Times today published an article, “Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy.” The article describes how reputable medical journals unknowingly published papers by ghostwriters working for drug companies. The papers in question typically involved review articles, and not surprisingly favored the products of the sponsoring companies. Though the doctors listed as authors claim to have reviewed and approved the papers, the practice naturally raises the question of objectivity.

Fortunately (or not!), research in the water field is not afflicted by the big bucks involved in medical research. I’m pretty confident our authors write their own papers. Nevertheless, it brings up some good questions about authorship practices and objectivity

JAWRA guidelines state, “Authors must disclose any interests or affiliations that could be perceived as influencing the objectivity of their writings.” Some disclosure comes in the agency affiliations listed in the author footnote. Other disclosures become clear in the context of the paper, e.g. in describing the purpose of the study. The Acknowledgements section is where more serious disclosure issues should be presented.

I like to see papers that take on the tough questions, papers where there may not be a consensus. Contentious issues sometimes involve parties willing to spend so their viewpoint prevails. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; it costs money to collect data and learn the facts. Nevertheless, funding sources can create a perception of bias. Our standard is one of disclosure: Tell our readers and reviewers who funded your study, and let them judge for themselves based on your presentation and your reputation.

I’m not saying every paper should disclose all its funding. That’s probably overkill. However, authors need to look at their funding from the perception of readers seeking the truth. A little disclosure upfront may be preferable to an extensive explanation later.