I didn't think I had anything to say on this, but following an
interesting discussion on a non-science based forum, I'd like to expand
on a point that both Dale and Felix made in different ways.
In the retraction of these 12 structures (and the 6 structures last
year), we are not seeing the failure of the scientific method, rather we
are seeing the scientific method working as it should.
More specifically, we are seeing "peer review" at work. I that the
implementation of peer review as part of the publication has perhaps
lead us to forget that peer review is a longer term, ongoing process,
conducted by the whole scientific community. In fact, although I haven't
looked into this, I would hesitate a guess that formalised peer review
for publication is perhaps a recent innovation, an anomaly rather than
the norm in the history of science? (Think of Darwin, for example.)
The problem is not then in the failings of the journal peer review
process, but rather in our failure to maintain an appropriate level of
doubt concerning anything we read in a paper or download from a database
- a complacency which may be built on an unrealistic idealisation of the
journals' "peer review" process, which has lead us to neglect the real
meaning of peer review.
Given that the databases are used by people who are not specialists in
our discipline, a very appropriate response is for us to work with the
database curators to try and present indications of the level of doubt
along with the structure - which is exactly what is now happening.
Dale Tronrud wrote:
> There are reasons for optimism. The self-correcting nature of
> the scientific method worked in this case. Kudos to the University
> of Alabama at Birmingham for facing this problem and following
> through with their investigation of earlier allegations.