Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How Many Scientists Fabricate And Falsify Research?

Date:
May 29, 2009
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
It's a long-standing and crucial question that, as yet, remains unanswered: just how common is scientific misconduct? A new study finds the first meta-analysis of surveys questioning scientists about their misbehaviors. The results suggest that altering or making up data is more frequent than previously estimated and might be particularly high in medical research.

It's a long-standing and crucial question that, as yet, remains unanswered: just how common is scientific misconduct? In the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE, Daniele Fanelli of the University of Edinburgh reports the first meta-analysis of surveys questioning scientists about their misbehaviours. The results suggest that altering or making up data is more frequent than previously estimated and might be particularly high in medical research.

Recent scandals like Hwang Woo-Suk's fake stem-cell lines or Jon Sudbø's made-up cancer trials have dramatically demonstrated that fraudulent research is very easy to publish, even in the most prestigious journals. The media and many scientists tend to explain away these cases as pathological deviations of a few "bad apples." Common sense and increasing evidence, however, suggest that these could be just the tip of the iceberg, because fraud and other more subtle forms of misconduct might be relatively frequent. The actual numbers, however, are a matter of great controversy.

Estimates based on indirect data (for example, official retractions of scientific papers or random data audits) have produced largely discrepant results. Therefore, many researchers have asked scientists directly, with surveys conducted in different countries and disciplines. However, they have used different methods and asked different questions, so their results also appeared inconclusive.

To make these surveys comparable, the meta-analysis focused on behaviours that actually distort scientific knowledge (excluding data on plagiarism and other kinds of malpractice) and extracted the frequency of scientists who recalled having committed a particular behaviour at least once, or who knew a colleague who did.

On average, across the surveys, around 2% of scientists admitted they had "fabricated" (made up), "falsified" or "altered" data to "improve the outcome" at least once, and up to 34% admitted to other questionable research practices including "failing to present data that contradict one's own previous research" and "dropping observations or data points from analyses based on a gut feeling that they were inaccurate."

In surveys that asked about the behaviour of colleagues, 14% knew someone who had fabricated, falsified or altered data, and up to 72% knew someone who had committed other questionable research practices.

In both kinds of surveys, misconduct was reported most frequently by medical and pharmacological researchers. This suggests that either the latter are more open and honest in their answers, or that frauds and bias are more frequent in their fields. The latter interpretation would support growing fears that industrial sponsorship is severely distorting scientific evidence to promote commercial treatments and drugs.

As in all surveys asking sensitive questions, it is likely that some respondents did not reply honestly, especially when asked about their own behaviour. Therefore, a frequency of 2% is probably a conservative estimate, while it remains unclear how the figure of 14% should be interpreted.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fanelli D. How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. PLoS ONE, 2009; 4(5): e5738 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005738

Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "How Many Scientists Fabricate And Falsify Research?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090528203745.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2009, May 29). How Many Scientists Fabricate And Falsify Research?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090528203745.htm
Public Library of Science. "How Many Scientists Fabricate And Falsify Research?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090528203745.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) — Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) — Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) — Sierra Leone residents remained in lockdown on Saturday as part of a massive effort to confine millions of people to their homes in a bid to stem the biggest Ebola outbreak in history. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) — Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins