Co‐author responsibility

Distinguishing between the moral and epistemic aspects of trust
Hanne Andersen

Author Affiliations

  • Hanne Andersen, 1Centre for Science Studies, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

Several high‐profile cases of research misconduct during the past decade have explicitly raised the question whether co‐authors share responsibility for scientific misconduct perpetrated by a collaborator. There is no clear answer though, as different cases of misconduct differ in terms of how the co‐authors were involved in the work. Nonetheless, media coverage, public interest, and intense debates have at least increased awareness and triggered discussion among the scientific community over the issue of co‐author responsibility. This article aims to contribute to this important discussion by analyzing four particular high‐profile cases of scientific misconduct and providing a deeper analysis of trust in research with a special emphasis on cooperators' and co‐authors' responsibility for fraudulent or flawed research. Our working hypothesis is that we can distinguish between a moral and an epistemic dimension of trust that have different repercussions for how scientists should deal with and prevent misconduct.

Jan Hendrik Schön received his PhD in physics at the University of Konstanz in Germany in 1997 and started working as a postdoc at the Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, USA, in 1998, under the supervision of solid‐state physicist Bertram Batlogg. His research on superconductors seemed to make dramatic progress, and Schön published in prominent journals such as Science and Nature. In 2001, Schön published an article per week on average; papers that reported stunning results, such as a single‐molecule transistor. His unusually high productivity and extraordinary results raised suspicion among his colleagues. Other scientists eventually discovered that papers reporting different experiments contained identical graphs of random noise. They alerted officials at Bell Laboratories, who formed a misconduct investigation committee. The committee found compelling evidence of data manipulation and misrepresentation in several of Schön's papers, and during 2002–2003, almost thirty papers were withdrawn by Science, Nature, Physical Review, Applied …

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