News Briefs: Bias - Environmental Science & Technology (ACS

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Bias "An editor should give unbiased consideration nt all manuscripts for publication." "An author'' central obllgatton iiso present an accurate account of the research performed, as well as an objective discussion of its significance.... The authors should reveal to the editor any potential conflict of interest." "A reviewer rhould bb sensitive to the eapearance of a conflict of interest.... If in doubt, the reviewer should return the manuscript promptly without review, advising the editor of the conflict of interest or bias." "A scientist publishing in the popular literature eas the same basic obligation to be accurate in reporting observations and unbiased in interpreting them as when publishing in a scientific journal." —Excerpts from ACS Ethical Guidelines for Editors, Authors and Reviewers My dictionary defines bias as a mental tendency, predisposition, preference, or prejudice. Equivalent words in French and German are "biais" and "beeinflussen". Antonyms include objectivity, neutrality, and impartiality. As young scientists, we were taught that bias has no place in science, that we must be objective and open to truth as it reveals itself without regard to our personal preferences. These are simple ideas to comprehend in a classroom setting or coming from a highly revered teacher. But as we grow older, we realize that the application of the principle is more complex thcin we realized. As we become deeply involved in research we nisv lose our objectivity. Sometimes positions that were originally based on objective judgment are slowly, imperceptibly hardened into bias. This predisposition can affect our interpretation of data especially when the data are limited which is so often the case In our zeal we may go beyond the cautious interpretation of data and unconsciously force it to agree with our position which has now gone beyond hypothesis to something approaching a personal

© 2000 American Chemical Society

dogma. If we are wrong, more often than not, it is others who call it to our attention. The worst example of this tendency, in my view, is in the area of expert testimony. It is now well recognized by a cynical judicial system that "you get your expert, and I will get mine ... we'll see who is more effective on the witness stand." Truth too often has little to do with the matter, and many times the lay people who make up juries are not able to discern it. They too are often unable to overcome their biases, to which clever courtroom tacticians play so effectively. This predisposition to action based on prejudice or bias also affects the way we relate to others even in our professional work. Our students pick it up without knowing they are doing so. Our bias can often exclude us from considering creative works that are "outside of the box". It prevents us from appreciating the works of others who publish in different places than we do or take a different tack in their research. In our roles as editors, reviewers, and authors, we are not immune to these human tendencies. It behooves us then, to periodically examine our behavior as we execute our professional duties. Are we truly objective when we read a paper that has been sent to us for review? Were we unduly influenced, negatively or positively, by the list of authors? When we wrote our introduction, did we slant it so as to set up our later interpretation of data, excluding others who may have different positions? Have we honestly revealed potential conflicts of interests and removed them as we pursue our task of writing, reviewing, or editing? Were we truly objective? We cannot be perfect, of course, but we must try.

William H. Glaze, Editor ([email protected])