Several scientific journals and ethics committees are deferring to anonymous judgment when it comes to charges of plagiarism and falsification of results in published research papers. As a bioethicist, I believe that this practice is risky, even when the tipster's views are valid: it could itself damage the integrity of scientific research.

The authors of the blog Retraction Watch ( hold the view that anomalies detected by someone using the pseudonym 'Clare Francis' are useful to scientific journals, irrespective of his or her anonymity (see A. Marcus and I. Oransky Lab Times 7, 39; 2011). But this unorthodox 'review' process pollutes the ethics that underpin scientific progress.

The practice could stimulate witch-hunting and pillorying. There is a danger that research-integrity committees could succumb to moralistic drift and confuse errors with misdeeds, underestimating context and a scientist's professional record. Stigmatized researchers might be tempted to exact revenge on their colleagues.

In my opinion, this is not the way to improve the moral standards of science's contribution to society or to build public engagement in science.