Sholto David, 32, has a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology from Newcastle University in England. He is also developing an expertise in spotting errors in scientific papers. Most recently, and notably, he discovered flawed or manipulated data in studies conducted by top executives at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The institute said that it was requesting retraction of six manuscripts and had found 31 other manuscripts that required corrections.
From his home in Wales, Dr. David scours new research publications for images that are mislabeled and manipulated, and he regularly finds mistakes, or malfeasance, in some of the most prominent scientific journals. Accuracy is vital, as peer-reviewed papers often provide the evidence for drug trials or further lines of research. Dr. David said that the frequency of such errors suggests an underlying problem for science.
His interview with The New York Times has been edited and condensed.
Are you done hunting scientists for the day?
I haven’t had time today. But if I spent a couple of hours reading papers, I’d probably write four or five comments about errors in scientific papers. It’s not hard to find these problems, and it’s not hard to find them at any institution. They’re all out there to find, if anyone wants to read the scientific literature.
What motivates you to spend the time to do it?
I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m not a crank conspiracist or anything like that. I’m a scientist myself, and I care about getting the science right.