A functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging luminary has accused two previous scientific trainees of dubious academic shenanigans if not outright scientific misconduct. Nikos Logothetis discussed his complaints in a news focus published in Nature. Specifically, he:
charged that two of his former research students took data from his laboratory without his permission and published scientifically incorrect interpretations of them against his advice.
claims that the journal involved, Human Brain Mapping, acted incorrectly by publishing the paper after he told them the data were inappropriate. He says the journal has denied him the right to a timely reply.
Shmuel A, Leopold DA. Neuronal correlates of spontaneous fluctuations in fMRI signals in monkey visual cortex: Implications for functional connectivity at rest. Hum Brain Mapp. 2008 Jul;29(7):751-61
Okay, so the first issue here has to do with deciding when data are "publishable" and when they are not. First and foremost, we wish to know that the data themselves are "good" so to speak. That nobody is accusing anyone of fudging the numbers or inventing data in some underhanded way. This does not appear to be the case here although I've so far only seen this brief outline of the charges and complaint. The second question is whether the data really show what the authors think they do. And this is where I tend to rely on the peer review process as well as a basic assumption of probity for the authors. Not to mention the post-review process. Don't believe the paper shows what it purports? Sack up, generate your own data (or analysis) and show why.
The second issue is where it gets a little trickier for my perspective. Who ultimately 'owns' the data and gets to make the publish/don't publish call? Who gets to decide which interpretation will be used in the paper? "DM, don't you always say it is the PI's decision?". Um, yeah, I do when it comes to settling authorship disputes within the lab. This sort of thing? Well, I've been in a case or two of similar nature in which I thought a certain set of data constituted a paper, one or more senior collaborators disagreed and overruled my "let's let the peer-review process decide" arguments. It boils down to the smell test, I suppose. If there is a legitimate thought that the data do not really support the interpretation...I'm sympathetic. If the thought is that the data are just not good enough for a certain level of publication or are too far down the Least Publishable Unit slope....not so much. And if there is any whiff that some of the collaborating authors are in opposition merely because they do not like the interpretation or it questions some positions they've staked out....game on. I have been in at least one situation in which I felt quite strongly there was opposition to publishing because the data tended to cast doubt on a position staked out in a different paper generated by the collaborating lab. Actually 'doubt' is way too strong, it was a fairly minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but it did tend to imply some cherry picking was going on in the other paper. So the devil is most certainly in the details as far as this Logothetis/Shmuel/Leopold dustup goes in my view. I don't know enough about the field to know if Logothetis is generally in opposition to the "theory about spontaneous brain activity" that drew his ire, if there are more legitimate debates about the appropriate imaging protocol to be used or what. Perhaps one of our phunctionalMRI phrenologist phriends will chime in.....
Okay, that brings me to a final concern. Shmuel and Leopold are now running their own programs. In fMRI / neuroscience. Of course. They are now junior scientists in direct competition with said luminary, Logothetis.
I'm sure I don't have to belabor that particular point although, again, without knowing the players this scenario is of uncertain probability.
Update: additional comment here.