May 20, 2024

Misconduct plague tarnishes life sciences

The prestige of science is endangered by the growing incidence of fraud and misconduct in research

The prestige of science is endangered by the growing incidence of fraud and misconduct in research, according to a survey published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Two-thirds of retracted life-sciences papers were removed because of misconduct although journals tend to obscure the real reason. “The rise in the rate of retractions raises concern about the health of the scientific enterprise itself,” the authors say.

The absolute number of retracted papers and the proportion is very small – about 0.01% — but there has been a 10-fold increase since 1975. This could be due to heightened scrutiny, but it could simply be due to a decline in ethics. Out and out fraud is most common among scientists in developed nations like the US and Germany, while plagiarism and duplication are more common in emerging scientific nations like India and China.

Top-flight journal are by no means immune. Journals like Science, Nature, Cell, PNAS, and The Journal of Clinical Investigation are among the ten journals with the most retractions for fraud or suspected fraud.

Furthermore, not all articles suspected of fraud get retracted. The authors say that “the current number of articles retracted because of fraud represents an underestimation of the actual number of fraudulent articles in the literature”.

“You also have the strong impression, in looking at some of these massive instances of fraud over many years, that … retractions are more common because retractable offenses are more common,” lead author Ferric Fang, of the University of Washington in Seattle, told the Christian Science Monitor. “We have this idea that science is self-correcting, and there’s certainly some truth to that… But there’s other stuff out there that doesn’t come to wrong conclusions. It’s just based on fraudulent data. It’s in an area that isn’t being intensively investigated by others, or people don’t confirm those findings but they’re not really sure why.”  These results remain and may influence future experiments.

Michael Cook
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