Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fossil Row

Rex Dalton, in the latest issue of Nature, has an article about complaints levels at some members of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
“In a letter of complaint sent in 2007 to New Mexico government officials, Martz, Mathew Wedel of the University of California at Merced and Michael Taylor of the University of Portsmouth, UK, wrote: “It is our strong suspicion the [New Mexico Museum team members] deliberately abused their editorial powers to take credit for observations and insights of Parker and Martz.” Such actions, the letter argues, corrupt the scientific process and harm young researchers. Because Lucas largely edits the Bulletin, he and his team have been able “to mass produce essentially self-published and non-peer-reviewed papers”, the letter claims.

Lucas is known in the palaeontology community for his desire to publish a high volume of papers. He acknowledges that his “tough” approach has brought him into conflict with researchers before. “They are obviously angry,” he says, but the complaint “doesn't have any substance”.

The New Mexico cultural-affairs department, which oversees the museum, conducted a review of two of the instances last October and concluded that the allegations were groundless. But some experts call that review a whitewash, claiming that it failed to follow accepted practices of US academic institutions faced with claims of misconduct. Now all three cases are before the Ethics Education Committee of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, a professional organization based in Northbrook, Illinois, which is awaiting responses from the New Mexico team before making a ruling.”