Wytske Hepkema

Tracing error and contested claims: controversy in Nanobiology from a social science perspective

Radboud University Nijmegen, Faculty of Science, Institute for Science in Society, wytske.hepkema@ru.nl

Supervisors: Dr. Willem Halffman & Dr. Frédérique Bordignon


I have a background in medical biology, and during my master I became interested in science organization. For my master thesis I looked at the effect of journal guidelines on the use of misidentified cell lines in the scientific literature.

Of course, journals have a lot more to offer than just guidelines. After my Master Programme, I learnt a lot about different peer review procedures and we established a platform for responsible editorial practices: responsiblejournals.org.

I then continued on the topic of peer review for another year, but from the researchers’ perspective, and how peer review differs between research fields.

Summary PhD Project

My PhD project is embedded in the European project NanoBubbles, which focusses on how, when and why science fails to correct itself, using three controversies in nanobiology as case studies.

I will focus on one controversy: whether or not nanoparticles can cross the cell membrane. I see this controversy as an attempt for error correction and responses to it. First, I will investigate this controversy in the scientific literature. What kinds of arguments and evidence do researchers use in an attempt for error correction, and how do other researchers counter this in the scientific literature?

Then, I will focus on the role and function of review articles. Are controversies settled in review articles? Or perhaps by setting a new research direction, review articles actually open up new controversies? In addition, I will look at the different type of review articles – such as invited reviews and systematic reviews – and if these articles have different aims and function.

Of course a lot of scientific knowledge production happens outside the scientific literature. Therefore, I will investigate how researchers attempt error correction, and respond to these attempts, outside the scientific literature. For example how researchers use different social media platforms, conferences, media appearances, and Wikipedia in this controversy.


Horbach, Serge P J M, Freek J W Oude Maatman, Willem Halffman, and Wytske M Hepkema. “Automated Citation Recommendation Tools Encourage Questionable Citations.” Research Evaluation 31, no. 3 (July 1, 2022): 321–25. https://doi.org/10.1093/reseval/rvac016.

Hepkema, W. M., Horbach, S. P., Hoek, J. M., & Halffman, W. (2022). Misidentified biomedical resources: Journal guidelines are not a quick fix. International journal of cancer150(8), 1233-1243. https://doi.org/10.1002/ijc.33882

Horbach, S.P., Hepkema, W.M. and Halffman, W. (2020), The Platform for Responsible Editorial Policies: An initiative to foster editorial transparency in scholarly publishing. Learned Publishing, 33: 340-344. https://doi.org/10.1002/leap.1312

Hoek, J. M., Hepkema, W. M., & Halffman, W. (2020). The effect of journal guidelines on the reporting of antibody validation. PeerJ8, e9300. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9300

Horbach, S., Hepkema, W., & Halffman, W. (2020). Hundreds of journals’ editorial practices captured in database. Nature, 582(7810), 32.

Konstantinos G Kokkonos, Nicolas Fossat, Louise Nielsen, Christina Holm, Wytske M Hepkema, Jens Bukh, Troels K H Scheel, Evolutionary selection of pestivirus variants with altered or no microRNA dependency, Nucleic Acids Research, 48(10), 5555-5571, https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkaa300



Illustration created by Wytske using pre-existing icon for the scientists:

Woman scientist illustrations: <a href=https://www.flaticon.com/free-icons/scientist title=”scientist icons”>Scientist icons created by iconixar – Flaticon</a>

Men scientist illustation: <a href=https://www.flaticon.com/free-icons/scientist title=”scientist icons”>Scientist icons created by Eucalyp – Flaticon</a>