|Wikimedia - Colin Smith|
Many of us have had similarly frustrating encounters with published papers that cannot be replicated, but we also realize that there are no "quick fixes" to solve the problem. The current peer-review process is based on the opinion of one or more editors who depend on the assessments of multiple scientific experts. Neither the editors nor the scientific experts have any way of testing the replicability of the results prior to deciding whether or not a study should be published. they simply have to trust the authors of the manuscript and believe that they took all the necessary steps to ensure the replicability of the results. If it turns out that the central findings of a published paper cannot be replicated, this information is frequently not officially published or acknowledged, but instead, it is shared unofficially among scientists who have had problems replicating the findings of that paper. In many cases, there is a presumption that the authors of the published paper may have made errors in how they conducted the experiments or interpreted the data, or that they perhaps forgot to disclose some key details that are necessary to conduct the experiments and obtain the same results. Even if multiple colleagues feel that the experiments, data or conclusions in a paper are flawed, published papers are rarely retracted by a journal. Retractions of papers are usually reserved for gross misconduct by the authors of a paper, such as overt fabrication of data. Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus are two science journalists, who founded the website Retraction Watch, which tracks papers that are retracted by scientific journals and nearly all the posted retractions are usually a consequence of such gross misconduct and violation of ethics that has come to light. Retractions because of honest scientific errors are rare.
At PLOS our mission is to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. We firmly believe that acceleration also requires being open about correcting the literature as needed so that research can be built on a solid foundation. Hence as editors and as a publisher we encourage the publication of studies that replicate or refute work we have previously published. We work with authors (through communication with the corresponding author) to publish corrections if we find parts of articles to be inaccurate. If a paper’s major conclusions are shown to be wrong we will retract the paper.