When you can’t trust science

Image credit: Animals Australia

Science is knowledge essential to good decision making, but being duped by it has a disastrous effect on public confidence.

Pollution is a hotly debated topic and in 2016 two Swedish scientists, Oona L?nnstedt and Peter Ekl?v (who hold positions at the Department of Ecology and Genetics at Uppsala University in Sweden) published the article ?Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology?, in the Science journal. Their findings were that: Quote.

??those [fish larvae and fish fry] that had been exposed to microplastic particles were less active than those that had not been exposed and they did not seek to avoid predators in the same way as those that had not been exposed to microplastic influence.? End of quote.

We know that plastic in the oceans kills marine life so it?s not hard to imagine the attention their article received when it was published back in June 2016.

The United Nations stepped up its campaign against plastic in mid-2016 and we banned microbeads in bodywash and scrub here at the end of 2017.

Unfortunately for the Swedish duo, another group of researchers were suspicious about the accuracy of the data in the report and lodged a request with the Expert Group for Misconduct in Research at the Central Ethical Review Board to check the Swedish data. Quote.

It was alleged that the experiments could not have taken place as described in the article, that the correct ethical approval for animal experimentation had not been obtained and that raw data from the study were missing.?

End of quote

The Expert Group found them guilty of misconduct in research and delivered its decision to Uppsala University on 21 April 2017. Quote.

?Oona L?nnstedt and Peter Ekl?v are guilty of misconduct in research, Ekl?v in that he has violated the regulations on ethical approval for animal experimentation, and L?nnstedt in that she has violated the regulations on ethical approval for animal experimentation and because the experiments were not conducted as described in the article in the scholarly journal and are therefore fabricated.

The experiments were conducted without the existence of ethical approval for animal experimentation.

The investigation also indicates that the experiments were not conducted during the period and to the extent stated in the research article. This means that L?nnstedt has fabricated the results. L?nnstedt was aware of this when the article was published and the misconduct must therefore be considered to have been committed intentionally on her part.? End of quote.


To avoid discreditation the Swedes should have had their work peer reviewed before publishing.? As they did not bother to do this, it seems they had scant regard for verification of accuracy?

The article was retracted from the Science journal in May 2017 but in the 11 months between the article appearing and the retraction, how much media and political attention was generated from the erroneous report?