On my [Pep Pàmies] comments on Lévy’s blog

This note was originally published by Pep Pàmies on a blog hosted by University of Columbia (http://www.columbia.edu/~jp2766/Homepage/Note.html). As this page has now been removed and Pep Pàmies note is relevant to discussions which have been taking place here, I reproduce it below.

Pep Pàmies wrote:

With this note I reply to questions (here and here) that in the last three days have been addressed to me through comments on Raphaël Lévy’s Rapha-z-lab blog.

 Earlier this week I wrote comments on Lévy’s blog because I was disturbed by the bias in the choice of arguments to support sweeping statements (for instance, here and here) against published, peer-reviewed evidence for the existence of entropic-driven phase separation in the form of stripes on nanoparticles decorated with both short and long organic ligands as reported by Francesco Stellacci and co-authors. I did neither claim that the evidence is all right, nor that the criticisms exposed on Lévy’s blog are all wrong. I did however expose the inherent bias in the choice of arguments and a few weaknesses in the technical criticisms.

 But, as an editor at Nature Materials I should stay above these informal discussions, and should only take a stance if a formal process involving the opinion from experts is carried out by the journal. Therefore, I did not wish to comment on the blog as an editor, and I did not want my comments to be interpreted as the judgement of an editor at the journal, or as the opinion of the journal.

 However, as a scientist and individual who highly values fairness — in particular in the scientific process — who has a blog, and who often contributes to science blogs, I felt compelled to post comments. Also, I strongly believe that science benefits from openness and that I should stand by my scientific comments. Therefore, I did not consider anonymity as an option. Still, I inferred that disclosing the identity of my employer would reinforce what I wanted to avoid: that my comments were taken as an editorial stance. They are not. I also consciously thought that signing with my full name would have the same effect, as a simple online search would have revealed my role at Nature Materials.

 I thus decided to take the middle way: to sign with my first name only, and to give away in my comments my field of expertise (computer simulations). My first name is not a common name, and therefore any interested party that would search online for the words ‘Pep’, ‘simulations’, and either of the words ‘materials‘, ‘physics‘ or ‘chemistry‘, would be able to find my full name and that of my employer immediately. Yet my aim was that on the blog my opinions were respected as being strictly in personal capacity.

 Yet I failed to see that by signing my comments with my first name only, I could prompt others to think that I was trying to hide any potential conflict of interest. Nothing further from my intentions.

 Actually, in my head there is no conflict of interest. If sufficient evidence for misconduct on a piece of work is proven, both as a scientist and as an editor I would support the retraction of the work. What’s more, I am as interested — as any respectable scientist is — in supporting measures that correct any shortcomings of the peer review process. It is neither in my interest as an editor, nor in Nature Materials’ interest, to dismiss claims of potential failures in peer-review or of misconduct associated to the journal’s content. In fact, Nature Materials gladly considered for peer review Levy’s Correspondence detailing scientific concerns on Stellacci’s work published in 2004 in the journal. The outcome of the peer-review process, which I know for a fact that it was carried out appropriately, was clear-cut: sufficient technical arguments were raised against publication of the Correspondence. Lévy stated that the process was unfair because reviewers did not have the appropriate expertise. This is false.

 In retrospect though, the reactions to having signed only with my first name are understandable, and I apologize for not having disclosed my full name and job in the first place. I accept that it would have been most appropriate to sign with my full name and to write a disclaimer mentioning that my comments were strictly in personal capacity and not tied to my role as an editor inNature Materials. I also want to re-state that in my comments I only used public information, and focused on technical (not editorial) concerns.

 This being said, I hope that going forward my past comments on the blog are only interpreted as personal. And at the personal level, I believe that some of Lévy’s sweeping criticisms (and those of Predrag Djuranovic, Philip Moriarty and Dave Fernig) are based on misrepresented facts, cherry-picking of published results, and partial (as opposed to holistic) interpretation of the evidence provided in the published papers they refer to. However, when speaking as an editor at Nature Materials I have to ignore this, and I believe that Levy and colleagues are trying to voice their concerns in the best of their capacities using appropriate channels, and that the scientific community interested in the topic will with time decide whether the criticisms are valid. Readers of this note may ask themselves how can my personal opinion not strongly influence my editorial judgement. Well, at Nature Materials we strongly focus on the science. In fact, on the basis of editorial judgement I have rejected without peer review work from dear friends and have published work from scientists who I personally find dislikable.

 To summarize, I apologize for not having disclosed my full name and written a disclaimer mentioning that my comments were all written in personal capacity. In hindsight it would have been best if I would have refrained from participating in the discussion.

 But there is no way back. Hence, I feel compelled to clarify two issues that have been specifically addressed to me since I decided that I would not further comment on the blog after my wish to remain unlinked to my editorial role was not respected:

 1. Dave Fernig has pointed out here that a paper authored by Stellacci and colleagues published in Nature Materials (link) shows three STM scans (Fig. 1a in the paper) that had been published before in Chem. Comms. (link). He also claims that this constitutes misconduct, and suggests that as a consequence the paper should be retracted. Although the Nature Materialspaper does indeed not mention explicitly that the scans had been published before, the text does refer to the Chem. Commspaper (as ref. 30) when describing the synthesis and characterization of the striped nanoparticles (which is not what the paper is about), making it implicit that the content of Fig. 1a (imaging of the nanoparticles) came from earlier work. I thus do not see this as a clear case of self-plagiarism, and I can’t see any reason for a retraction. In fact, a simple credit line such as “Fig. 1a reproduced from ref. 30” would have made the point absolutely clear (incidentally, I should mention that I do not know whether in this particular case it was the authors, the editor, or both, who failed to notice the absence of such a direct statement). Importantly, I should state that I have yet to discuss this point with my colleagues at Nature Materials, and that this opinion is based only on my inspection of the two papers referred above.

 2. My objectivity has been questioned. This is in principle understandable, but I have to say that my comments on Lévy’s blog dealt for the most part with technical points (see for instance here and here), where subjectivity has very little role. Also, in my view, most of those points have not yet been satisfactorily addressed. However, as I mentioned in my last comment on the blog, and as discussed on this note, I prefer to refrain from further discussion on the matter.

Finally, I am solely responsible for the decision to write this note and for its contents.

Pep Pàmies

London, 21 December 2012

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4 comments

  1. EDITED BY Raphazlab: FS says: ‘I have never written on your blog’

    Dear Prof. Lévy and Prof. Moriarty,

    You will receive the raw data corresponding to the images you are asking for tonight. I hope my files will help to clarify this pseudo-controversy.

    I will be waiting your post about the analysis of our images. Until then, please, stop bugging prestigious editors.

    Best.

    Like

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