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Scientists behaving badly — more retractions are cheats, not mistakes
Posted By Joanne Nova On January 21, 2013 @ 2:51 am In Global Warming | 114 Comments
Who said scientific experts should be trusted?
Is corruption endemic? Fully 43% of retractions in the life science and medical research journals are due to fraud or suspected fraud.
Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications
Ferric C. Fang R. Grant Steen and Arturo Casadevall
PNAS PNAS 2012 109 (42) 16751-16752; doi:10.1073/iti4212109
A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased ∼10-fold since 1975. Retractions exhibit distinctive temporal and geographic patterns that may reveal underlying causes.
Plus this published correction.
RetractionWatch points out that this could be the tip of the iceberg
The question, of course, is, how common is scientific misconduct? The simple but unsatisfying answer is that we don’t know, certainly not based on this study, because it’s only of retractions. Some of the best data we have comes from a 2009 paper in PLoS ONE by Daniele Fanelli. In it, Fanelli does his own survey, and combines findings from other surveys. He concludes:
A pooled weighted average of 1.97% (N = 7, 95%CI: 0.86–4.45) of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once –a serious form of misconduct by any standard– and up to 33.7% admitted other questionable research practices. In surveys asking about the behaviour of colleagues, admission rates were 14.12% (N = 12, 95% CI: 9.91–19.72) for falsification, and up to 72% for other questionable research practices. Meta-regression showed that self reports surveys, surveys using the words “falsification” or “fabrication”, and mailed surveys yielded lower percentages of misconduct. When these factors were controlled for, misconduct was reported more frequently by medical/pharmacological researchers than others.
Considering that these surveys ask sensitive questions and have other limitations, it appears likely that this is a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of scientific misconduct.
In other words, 2% of scientists admit to having committed misconduct, but almost three-quarters say their colleagues have been involved in “questionable research practices.” But those may be low figures.
This PNAS paper was mentioned in yesterday’s thread about the shut-down of the Science Fraud site. Clearly we need better mechanisms to protect and encourage whistleblowers and to report possible fraud.
Ferric C. Fang R. Grant Steen and Arturo Casadevall (2012): Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications PNAS 2012 109 (42) 16751-16752; doi:10.1073/iti4212109
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