Research misconduct: rare or real?

Many people will be aware of the high profile examples of research misconduct which have occured over the past few years – for example, the Korean cloning research which was found to be fake. But what about the research we don’t know is fake or doctored?

A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data has recently been published in PLoS One – journal of the Public Library of Science:

“How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data”

This concludes that “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.”

It isn’t cheery stuff. But most research is never going to attract the attention of the media, and most research findings can only hope to make a little light go further. Some of the reasons (although not justification) may be in the cultural expectations of research, for example “Among research trainees in biomedical sciences at the University of California San Diego, 4.9% said they had modified research results in the past, but 81% were “willing to select, omit or fabricate data to win a grant or publish a paper”. If followed through, it’s very shocking.

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