My upcoming year of pro bono research integrity work

Hi all,

I have decided to take (at least) a year off from paid work to focus on my research integrity work. Since 2013, I have worked on finding plagiarism and image duplication in scientific papers. Every free minute I searched for papers, made reports highlighting the potential problems, and wrote to journals and institutions about these concerns.

Together with Arturo Casadevall, Ferric Feng and other co-authors, we published three papers about our work on the frequency of image duplication in biomedical papers. You can find them here:

As of today, I have reported 85 papers and theses for extensive plagiarism, and over 1200 papers for potential image duplication. But I have many more that I still need to report, and I am getting more and more requests for help, and the work – all done in my spare time – was piling up.

So after working for 2.5 years in microbiome startup companies, I have decided to take at least a year off – maybe longer – so that I will have much more time to work on this project. I will still closely follow the microbiome field, of course, as well.

Thank you all, for your support!

Elisabeth Bik

Here is the unroll of a Twitter thread on this topic, as done by ThreadReader.

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 9.50.19 PM.png

I am taking a year off from paid work to focus more on my science misconduct volunteer work. Science needs more help to detect image duplication, plagiarism, fabricated results, and predatory publishers.

Most of the work detecting these problems in science papers is done by volunteers like me. It takes perseverance and patience. Many journals, authors, and academic institutions will not take action.

Even if they respond, It might take years before papers with serious flaws are corrected. All that time, those papers are not flagged by the journals, and others researchers might cite them or base their research on them.

As of now, we can only flag papers on @PubPeer and install their plugin so you can see which papers have a comment, e.g. when doing literature searches.

And I will still write to journals or institutions about all papers with concerns that I found so far. Even if it takes hours to find their contact info.

I still have 100s of papers that I need to officially report and 100s of reported ones to follow up on. The only way I felt I can catch up on that is to quit my paid job. Which is scary.

It would be nice if journals, institutions, funding agencies, and countries would care more about the quality of their research. If they had more guts to respond to concerns raised by readers – and take action.

The work that volunteers like us do is not very rewarding obviously. No one likes criticism. It can also be dangerous. Authors might start personal attacks on us and sue us for libel.

I am also very aware of the collateral damage, e.g. of coauthors who did not commit misconduct, others workers in those labs, and the effects on family members.

With that in mind, it is important to focus on facts, on the potential problems in the papers and how to address those. The focus should be on the papers, not the authors.

I might make an exception in cases of authors using false affiliations and fake coauthors.

The more you dig into these cases the more other weird stuff you find. I can probably do this full-time for the rest of my life. Maybe I will.







3 thoughts on “My upcoming year of pro bono research integrity work

  1. A very respectable action. Also pretty alarming that the system is so broken that it would require such a thing. I hope you’re able to bring about permanent improvements/fixes.

    Not sure if you’ve seen this, but relatedly I’ve been trying to bring attention to what seems to be major problems with clinical trial oversight, standards, adverse event reporting, FMT donor quality, etc.. I’ve written to government agencies, legislators, news orgs, researchers, & more

    I’m just a layperson, so I might be wrong/ignorant/misguided on parts, but no one thus far has shown me such to be the case.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good luck!
    What in your opinion are the ‘things-to-look-for in microbiome studies, where no bands or Western are common?


  3. This is a brave and inspiring decision. Quitting your paid job to work on research integrity is noble. I sincerely hope your actions can inspire substantial change by journals and authors to emphasize research integrity much more.


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