U.S. Scientists top research fraud list? Concerned? Probably not.

I happened upon this story while reading Politics Daily’s[1] coverage of a Journal of Medical Ethics article about a study of retraction incidence for research papers. The article was published in November 2010. 

The study found that leading causes of invalid research were:

  • retraction due to discovery of lab error after article submission to peer-reviewed journals
  • inability to reproduce results

I see that as honest behavior. Which would be easier, trying conceal or deny a mistake, or admitting error? The latter couldn’t be easy.

Braver Path Dramatization: Researcher requests article retraction

Dear ACM or IEEE,

I am the author of that research article you featured in last month’s issue. You know, the paper that was covered by most of the scientific press and popular media because my findings had such wide-ranging implications?

Well, I just found a major error in my work as I was re-reading it today. None of the peer-reviewers caught it, nor did I, until now. Please issue a retraction in my name. I’ll return that $50,000 of prize money you awarded to me. And I’ll tell the research group at [ pick any of { IBM, Princeton Advance Studies, Google Labs, NIH, CDC, Stanford University, mongoDB, Betaworks, NVIDIA} ] who offered me that great new job based on my research, that I was wrong and understand if they rescind their offer of employment and funding….

Actually, I wish the article hadn’t used the word fraud at all, as it a study of retractions, only a small number of which were due to fraud. There were certainly some cases of outright, very predatory fraud, clearly motivated by greed. The article mentions that. But that was a small part of the total number of retracted papers. In fact, when considered in the context of relative and not absolute counts, the key finding was that the retraction rate in the U.S. was 1.64%, during a ten-year interval. This far surpasses quality standards for rate of failure in nearly every other industry.

The most troubling concerns were plagiarism and deliberate falsification. Cases of both were presented in the article. Source data was drawn from on-line medical research repository PubMed from 2000 – 2009.

The article covered some other trends. Fewer American and Japanese scientists are publishing as a percentage of the total number of publications than in the past. Other countries are now entering the ring. This doesn’t mean that the U.S.A. and Japan are in technological or academic decline! It means that researchers from other nations are gaining better access to education and research funding. That helps everyone.

Also, within the United States, research breakthroughs are becoming far less concentrated in the traditional bastions of Harvard, Stanford and University of Chicago. Duke, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, University of Southern Florida and other public and private institutions are coming their own, achieving prominence like never before.

1. Politics Daily is owned by America Online News.  AOL continues to produce quality content and services, despite the brand’s unfortunate lack of prestige and status.  AOL is much more than an outdated and unpleasant internet service provider, although that is my first thought when I see the triangular AOL logo.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. It is really bad news. Scientific research should be transparent to the society.


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