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In your opinion, could any other lab afford your effort in correcting the record?
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You've spent 18 months trying to sort out where you had made mistakes. I believe that most of the labs around the world involved with plant science don't have the same resources as you do (in terms of staff, researchers, funds) and couldn't afford spending so much time and money on repeating experiments.

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This is an important point. Before being confronted with this situation, I assumed that everyone would simple retract their papers if they found out they made a mistake. Now I know that it is not that simple. If you find a discrepancy you need resources and willing staff to repeat experiments. It took much longer than I had expected. Because the Xa21 project is central to my lab, there was no question that we would work to correcting the record. However, I do understand that some scientists may not have the staff in place to do the work. In addition, if results are questioned from a project that the PI worked on many years ago, they may no longer have materials or expertise to address the issue thoroughly. In that case, they may leave it to other labs to sort out.

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I agree with Pam that this is a very tricky point and not always easy. When I started doing science not too long ago (about 7-8 years) I took all I read in the scientific literature at face value. A couple of years in it dawned on me that not all you see on paper is actually correct. Senior people told me inside stories about literature they knew was wrong. So an inside circle knows what's right and what's wrong but not the whole community. This of course creates a knowledge imbalance and people might start new research directions based on wrong premisses. Therefore I think the community needs an open debate about this problem, but also needs to avoid pointing fingers. Then there is the personal level. In recent years so many of my friends came and talked with me about problems reproducing data in the lab they just joined. After they heard about our story the felt they could really open up. This was not just one but multiple very talented scientists. Some survived these problems others did not and left academia. So yes I think many people could afford being more open about their 'mistakes'. Science is also about discourse and view points can change. That's why I also really respect Pam's approach and decision to go rather openly through the whole correction process. We need more of these positive role models.

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Ask me anything journal club

- on correcting the scientific record

Who: Pamela Ronald is a Professor at the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. She also serves as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Institute.

Drs. Ofir Bahar, Rory Pruitt, Benjamin Schwessinger, and Arsalan Daudi are all present or former postdoctoral fellows in Prof. Ronald’s lab.

What: Prof. Ronald’s lab studies how plants respond to disease, and how plants can defend themselves against invading microbes. Last year, the group retracted its PLOS ONE and Science papers after finding that a bacterial strain they had been using was contaminated and a bioassay they had relied on was flawed. They investigated into what went wrong, and published new results in PeerJ last month to correct the scientific record.

Prof. Ronald, Dr. Bahar, Dr. Pruitt, Dr. Schwessinger, and Dr. Daudi will be answering your questions live, regarding their article and their retraction experience, or any other topic of relevance to plant-microbe interactions.

Plant interactions with microbes are important in the context of plant health and global food security, and of course maintaining the integrity of the scientific record is of paramount importance. So take this opportunity to get all your questions answered by five experts in the field who have been through the process of correcting their work!

Image: Gene Hettel, CC-BY-SA

When: February 18, 2014 09:00 am PST

Where: Ask me anything - on correcting the scientific record