The data thugs

16 February 2018   Vol 359, Issue 6377

The data thugs
By Adam Marcus, Ivan Oransky
Science16 Feb 2018 : 730-732 Full Access
Nick Brown and James Heathers have had striking success in catalyzing retractions by publicly calling out questionable data.
When it comes to correcting problematic data in the scientific literature, styles vary. Some scientists prefer to go through “proper channels,” such as private conversations or letters to the editor. Others leave anonymous comments on online forums, such as PubPeer, for airing concerns about papers. Then there is the more public approach taken by Nick Brown and James Heathers. The two researchers—Heathers has called himself “a data thug”—have been remarkably effective at uncovering problematic data—and publicly airing their concerns on websites and in the media. Their work has led to corrections to dozens of papers, and the full retractions of about 20. But although the duo concedes that their assertive style might rub some scientists the wrong way, they’ve attracted relatively little criticism from academic peers. Indeed, many credit them with addressing an uncomfortable problem in the science world, and even send them tips on suspect papers.