Law Suits in Science

  • Qian-Chen Yong
  • November 14, 2017

It’s been a very interesting month for QCist.com. When building this website, I planned to write an original blog at least every month. I failed to do so in the month of October, mainly because of some major changes in my career. In addition, QCist, LLC also received its first legal action notice related to our recent blog regarding Oncotarget, which contained some false information. Our original post about Oncotarget may or may not have led to additional reports regarding the same issue in Retraction Watch and The Scientist. On one hand, we are happy to be heard by these media outlets; on the other hand, we need to be more careful when reporting on original information that has not been thoroughly vetted.


The experience of receiving a legal action notice has been stressful. We admittedly made an error by assuming that PubMed is a search engine solely for MEDLINE. We were obviously mistaken, and have learned a valuable lesson in checking all information more fully before reporting specific details. Oncotarget has been reasonable in this issue, and understood that we were trying to provide an unbiased opinion. We appreciate that they did not press further legal action against us and were respectful of our intentions.


On the other hand, a more controversial example of this has been recently reported by The Scientist. A professor is suing PNAS, asking for $10 million in damages after the journal published a critique of his work on renewable energy. In my opinion, this type of frivolous action is detrimental to scientific practices. Disagreements in science should be settled in published literature (especially since many journals accept short communications to voice opinions regarding studies published in the journal) or at scientific meetings/conferences (I have seen people arguing in the Q&A session after a presentation). Like Faz Alam said,

“Science should be controlled by the people with the best science, not by the people with the best lawyers. If we want to be able to hold science to the highest standards, we must be able to speak freely about it.”


I understand why Beall’s list (a list that listed out potentially predatory journals) went dark with little explanation after listing the names of many predatory journals (here is the new website with the information). We appreciate the decency of Oncotarget not to sue us directly over our mistake. However, we expect QCist.com to experience hurdles similar to Retraction Watch, PubPeer and Beall’s list, especially as the website database becomes more popular. We are far from perfect. We want to promote good scientists, but will inevitably expose bad scientists, and recognize that this system can be easily abused. However, we stand by our intentions at QCist.com to identify better ways to promote good scientists and foster beneficial relationships between mentors and trainees, which will positively influence upcoming generations of scientists and scientific practices.


We just need to do it more responsibly, and encourage other scientists to do the same.


Appreciation goes to Dr. Stephanie Kidder her editorial and comments

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