Evolutionary Studies Initiative hosts Elisabeth Bik, top academic ethics sleuth, for virtual J.T. Scopes Lecture

By Andy Flick, Evolutionary Studies Initiative scientific coordinator  

The Vanderbilt Evolutionary Studies Initiative will welcome Elisabeth Bik, the top academic ethics sleuth, for the inaugural J.T. Scopes virtual lecture. The J.T. Scopes Lecture Series aims to highlight the work of high-profile scientists who speak truth to power and defend science.  

The talk, “The Dark Side of Science: Misconduct in Biomedical Research,” is scheduled for Wednesday, March 2, at 3:10 p.m. CT. The event is free and open to the Vanderbilt community; advance registration is required. 

Elisabeth Bik
Elisabeth Bik

Science builds upon science. Even after peer-review and publication, science papers can still contain images or other data of concern. If not addressed post-publication, papers containing incorrect or even falsified data can lead to wasted time and money spent by other researchers trying to reproduce those results. Several high-profile science misconduct cases have been described, but many more cases remain undetected.

Elisabeth Bik is a Dutch microbiologist and image forensics detective who left her paid job in industry to search for and report biomedical articles that contain errors or data of concern. She has done a systematic scan of 20,000 papers in 40 journals and found that about 4 percent of these contained inappropriately duplicated images.  

In her talk she will present her work and show several types of inappropriately duplicated images and other examples of research misconduct. She will show how to report scientific papers of concern, and how journals and institutions handle such allegations. 

Bik’s work is responsible for the formation of ethics and integrity committees in scientific journals, such as PLOS ONE. Since 2019 she has scanned the biomedical literature for images or other data of concern and has reported more than 4,000 scientific papers.  

In 2020 she received the Peter Wildy Prize for communication and education in microbiology, and her “super-spotting” abilities were featured in an article published in Nature. A letter written in support of her work was signed by more than 2,000 scientists and featured in The Guardian, Science and Nature.  

This distinguished lecture series is named after John T. Scopes, the Tennessee science teacher involved in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” who was charged and convicted for teaching evolution in a Dayton, Tennessee, high school in 1925.  

The Evolutionary Studies Initiative at Vanderbilt aims to unite a remarkably diverse array of scholars from diverse disciplines with broad interests and expertise in evolution-related fields. Scholars integrate evolution with anthropology, neuroscience, psychological sciences, economics, law, language, paleontology, education, ecology and medicine, to name just a few. Evolution not only provides the scaffold on which many of these fields are built, but its concepts and tools also constitute the very means by which people study virtually everything that contains the words human, behavior, culture and, increasingly, policy.