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[MELBOURNE] Science journalists have a duty to investigate and report scientific fraud, according to retired research scientist Phil Vardy, formerly of Macquarie University, Australia.

Speaking at a session on investigating scientific fraud at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne (April 17), Vardy told reporters, "You must reveal scientific misconduct, for if you do not, they will commit their frauds again."

Vardy emphasised the importance of securing primary scientific evidence to confront scientists suspected of committing fraud. He said journalists should critically assess the evidence in totality and seek corroborative information from reliable sources.

"Focus just on a few points [of evidence] but be prepared for the institutions to defend themselves vigorously with claims of insufficiency and incompetence against you," he advised journalists.

Korea Times reporter Kim Hee Won said journalists face enormous resistance to investigating fraud when scientists are considered national icons, including opposition from within the scientific community.

"Relying on scientists could be tricky, as they may choose to be economical with truth," she said.

Kim also warned of the potential for journalists to be used as conduits for hype about science.

Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of the journal Nature, said it is important to independently verify any new research, because advancing information technology means scientists could manipulate data.

But he advised journalists to pre-empt legal challenges by assessing the risk of a libel lawsuit with a lawyer.

In a similar vein, Vardy called for tougher laws to protect journalists and whistleblowers in the event of legal challenges.