Study Shows Tenfold Increase in Scientific Research Papers Retracted for FraudScience Thursday, October 4th, 2012
(The Guardian) The proportion of scientific research that is retracted due to fraud has increased tenfold since 1975, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of how research papers go wrong.
The study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that more than two-thirds of the biomedical and life sciences papers that have been retracted from the scientific record are due to misconduct by researchers, rather than error.
The results add weight to recent concerns that scientific misconduct is on the rise and that fraud increasingly affects fields that underpin many areas of public concern, such as medicine and healthcare.
The authors said their findings could only be a conservative estimate of the true scale of scientific misconduct.
“The better the counterfeit, the less likely you are to find it – whatever we show, it is an underestimate,” said Arturo Casadevall, professor of microbiology, immunology and medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and an author on the study.
Casadevall and his colleagues examined 2,047 papers on the PubMed database that had been retracted from the biomedical literature through to May 2012.
The authors consulted secondary sources such as the US Office of Research Integrity and Retraction Watch blog, which highlights cases of scientific misconduct, to work out the reasons for each of the retractions.
Their results found that 67.4% of retractions were attributable to scientific misconduct and only 21.3% were down to error. The misconduct percentage was composed of fraud or suspected fraud (43.3%), duplicated publications (14.2%) and plagiarism (9.8%).
In addition, the long-term trend for misconduct was on the up: in 1976 there were only three retractions for misconduct out of 309,800 papers (0.00097%) whereas there were 83 retractions for misconduct out of 867,700 papers at a recent peak in 2007 (0.0096%).
Image: Horia Varlan