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Studies Suggest Massive Increase In Scientific Fraud 229

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-we-blame-this-on-madoff dept.
Titus Andronicus writes "Scientific fraud has always been with us. But as stated or suggested by some scientists, journal editors, and a few studies, the amount of scientific 'cheating' has far outpaced the expansion of science itself. According to some, the financial incentives to 'cut corners' have never been greater, resulting in record numbers of retractions from prestigious journals. From the article: 'For example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent.'"
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Studies Suggest Massive Increase In Scientific Fraud

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  • Surpised? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Friday April 20, 2012 @06:38PM (#39751537)

    There's more money in it now.

  • Re:Surpised? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @06:41PM (#39751569)

    Citation needed

  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Friday April 20, 2012 @06:53PM (#39751681)

    The more scientists who commit fraud and outcompete honest scientists for funding, the higher the bar becomes for the honest scientists. With dwindling tenure positions (and far more scientists competing for those positions), in order to be considered for tenure you have to meet very high productivity standards : a large number of peer reviewed papers in high-impact journals.

    Well, real research takes time, money, and if it's good research, it will FAIL most of the time. It HAS to find something truly new you have to leave the bounds of existing knowledge, and most solutions anyone attempts are going to fail. The only way to guarantee an experiment will succeed is to :

                1. Research something you really already know the answer to. Hence the popularity of further research on the dangers of smoking. Throw a dart at a picture of a human body, check if someone else has researched it, if not, check. You will "discover" that cigarette smoke is quite harmful to or increases the prevalence of . This kind of research is not fraud, per say, but is really boring to high impact journals SO
                2. Discover something marginal with real research, then use photoshop and obscure statistical methods to make it look like you have a real discovery. Make outlandish claims about the prospect of your discovery revolutionizing everything.

    And so on. The problem is, there ARE real discoveries made, every now and then, that would be huge IF large sums of money were spent to develop the REAL advances. But, if you have 10 fakers for every legitimate discovery, and you try to fund them all equally, most of the money gets wasted and so we live in a society without effective treatments for cancer, without a cost effective way to reach low earth orbits, without any of the other things that technology theoretically could make possible.

  • by gotfork (1395155) on Friday April 20, 2012 @06:56PM (#39751717) Homepage
    So there's 196 papers retracted since 2001? That's far less than the number of papers published in my subfield (condensed matter physics) each day. It's simply easier to find the tiny fraction that do cheat now that everything is more readily available.
  • by yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:01PM (#39751775)
    In my experience as a scientist, what has increased is the pressure to publish quickly. So, people publish results that haven't been checked as much as they perhaps should be. But this is not fraud, and perhaps it's even healthy. Better to get crazy results out there than bury them in notebooks: sometimes they turn out to be major discoveries.
  • by ibsteve2u (1184603) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:01PM (#39751779)
    When the most corrupt people in America include so many of our most powerful politicians, corporate CEOs, and Wall Street barons it is unreasonable to expect any facet of American society to remain unaffected. The only and only thing you can be sure will "trickle-down" is corruption as the system has been rigged by the corrupt to ensure that it is corruption that pays the big bucks in America.
  • Even good studies can have aberrant results that start with promising findings and end in retraction. The fact that retractions are up is not inherently indicative of more fraud, it could just as well be indicative of more pressure and more thorough peer review.
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:18PM (#39751939)

    asia is real big on tech the test and cheating

    Since NCLB linked money to performance on tests, US school districts have become big fans of cheating.

  • There's more money in it now.

    While more money is spent in science, the scientists themselves have in general not had a meaningful raise in some time. Anyone who goes in to science to make money is, to say the least, misguided. Scientific research is often the least profitable venture you can pursue with a PhD.

    The additional money being spent in science is largely going to keep the lights on in the lab. Scientists need to pay for their utilities and consumables, all of which have risen in price while their wages generally have not.

  • ... Soulskill. Thank you. I hadn't been reading slashdot very closely this week and was wondering if I was going to miss out on the blatant conservative pandering that is a regular feature of slashdot's front page. Not to let me down, soulskill comes through.

    Thank you, I guess. And yes, I know I will be moderated straight down to hell for this. But you can't say I'm not right on the matter.
  • Re:nope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:53PM (#39752325) Journal

    I suspect an investigation into journalistic fraud would be far more fruitful. But I tend to agree with you, only because only those miserable fuckers at the Heartland Institute would spread around a lie like "retraction == fraud".

  • by jd (1658) < minus caffeine> on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:05PM (#39752425) Homepage Journal

    This is why I would argue for a shake-up of how science is funded and how papers are refereed, published and post-publish reviewed.

    Science should NOT be corporate-funded, it should be grant-funded -- directly from a scientific organization like NIST, or indirectly via university (or other educational) departments. Corporations should be entitled to push money into a grant pool and should also be entitled to suggest problems to study, but there should be absolutely NO link between the providers of the money and the providers of the science. Scientists MUST be free to say a claim is wrong, obtain negative results or otherwise get results corporations aren't going to like. Sorry, the universe doesn't give a flying what your CEO says.

    A paper should NOT be considered as having been refereed until the work has been reproduced. But what constitutes reproduction of a result? At least some forgeries have involved people taking prior published papers and doing a cut-and-paste on the tables of results. The values now necessarily agree. Is that reproduction of results? No. Conclusion - a copy of the lab notes during the experiments should be placed in escrow with the journal. Once the peer reviewers have also submitted their lab notes, the complete collection is released to a second-stage peer review to determine if the collection suggests anyone "cooked the books". Only when a paper passes second-stage review is it published.

    Next, there need to be central scientific libraries that collect ALL journals (regardless of obscurity), ALL reviewed lab notes, etc, making that information available to absolutely anyone, with PROPER linkage between research (Semantic Web has nothing on this!). Journals will claim they need to make a profit -- fine, embargo new publications for N months after pay-per-view publication. Since I'm arguing for quality indexing, and given that takes time, such a library can't publish instantly anyway.

    What to do with negative results, though? Journals hate publishing those. So, have the central funding agencies ALSO fund an "open journal" that ONLY publishes negative results. Journals can't complain that it's competing, since there's no overlap.

    Ok, but even with all of that, nobody has time to read every paper and certainly nobody has time to go back and correlate current science with past papers even if all this information was available. Doesn't matter. If there's a central store of everything, and that everything is properly linked up, the reasoners that have already been written for Semantic Web logic will work on those links to determine if the data is internally consistent. That information can be passed back to the funding agencies to determine what experiments are needed (if any) to identify what results are good, what ones are fraud and what ones are merely incompetent.

    This sort of framework is relatively open (anyone can join as a publisher, anyone can join as a researcher, anyone can throw money into the pool), but more importantly the information is open and the information lifecycle is a closed loop. Even if the majority of past data is bad in any given field, this system would make bad data unsustainable because it can't pass through a two-stage review anything like as easily as it can a one-stage because the criteria differ, and even if it did get through, it then has to handle an automated consistency check.

    Yes, this is serious infrastructure we're talking. However, science journals cost many times more to publish in than open journals (roughly, $8,000 an article less, assuming the typical conversion rates []). You don't need to hand that many papers being published before the cost of all the infrastructure needed matches the amount saved. The money then saved from eliminating the bad science then becomes pure profit, which can be ploughed into new work.

  • by Ranger (1783) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:15PM (#39752503) Homepage
    on this story. Asshats. Seriously? How many of those retracted papers dealt with the studies relating to climate change?
  • Re:Surpised? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pz (113803) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:27PM (#39752577) Journal

    There's more money in it now.

    Actually, it's quite rather the opposite: there's not enough money, so competition for scant funding is intense. Two days ago I saw a presentation by Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH, who was really trying very hard to put a positive spin on resarch and the source that it provides for economic recovery. He was trying really, really hard. Why? Because if you look at the inflation-adjusted budget of the NIH, it's been going down ever since 1978, and is currently closing in to about 20% off the peak. In the meantime, the number of applications has skyrocketed to the point that fewer than 25% of applications are being funded. In my subfield, that number is closer to between 7 and 9%. When competition is that fierce, the temptation to fudge data is huge.

    But his arguments were solid: there has been rarely a better ROI on governmental programs than the NIH budget with a factor of at least 2x overall (each $1 in NIH budget results in $2 in GDP), and individual cases that are well over 100x (like the Human Genome Project). Research, nationally funded research, is one of the basic means for seeding long-term economic growth. If you are in biomedical science or its related basic fields, you should contact your congressmen and insist that the NIH and NSF budgets be increased: we need another doubling, like we saw during the Clinton administration.

  • Re:Surpised? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PingPongBoy (303994) on Friday April 20, 2012 @09:17PM (#39752873)

    There's more money in it now.

    On a different tack, rather than money, it may be due to another theory of economics, the law of diminishing returns. As more discoveries are made, it becomes harder to make discoveries, but with the human population growing at least linearly and the population of researchers keeping pace, the rate of good research results is under great pressure to keep up. Add to this the specter of funding cuts and people not wanting to lose their research jobs, and the sheer volume of research results being reported. Human nature completes the syllogism: there will be more falsification.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @02:42AM (#39754175) Homepage Journal

    And some other asshat has to drag out the term "denialist".

    There's no other shoe that fits. If you want to propose a different word, feel free to do so -- but you can't have "skeptic," because that means something different, sorry.

  • Re:Surpised? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @06:07AM (#39754699) Journal

    I would say it's just the opposite. Contrary to what might seem obvious in other situations, MORE money could actually DECREASE fraud in science. There is less money - at least public, "no strings attached" money - available. It would not surprise me at all if societies that invest more public money into research see less fraud.

    If you're a scientist you are increasingly pressured to get the results your funding corporation/institution is paying for and to do it within crushing schedules and shoestring budgets. That's not to say all studies are trying to reach a particular conclusion (though some clearly are like that), but often a study is simply inconclusive... but inconclusive studies don't make the bean counters happy.

    Science needs materials, equipment, staff and time. Give them what they need, stand back, and you'll get good results. Might not be the results you want, but that's a risk you'll have to accept.

  • Re:Surpised? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @12:38PM (#39756561)

    In science they retract things but ever notice how they never pay the grant money back? :-) The other side of it is the whole tenure thing: have nut job ideas but don't get caught long enough and all of a sudden you become immune to being fired, having to do relevant work etc.

    I don't know if I agree that science funding has increased. It has moved around in most countries from pure science to "practical science". Which in turn makes people that want to do pure science having to come up with a hand wavy argument why their project is going to cure AIDS or cut gas requirements by 50%. That is a big problem because pure science should still be done and shouldn't have to justify itself by using what medical/engineering problem it will solve.

  • by Niedi (1335165) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @06:24AM (#39761335)
    I honestly cannot remember when I've heard so much misguided pseudoscience stuff for the last time.
    Let's start.
    No papers sceptic on global warming? I was able to find a couple of 100 released since 2011 by just spending 5 minutes on
    Non-coding DNA? There's an even simpler explanation: Regulatory sequences. LOADS of them. Each cell only needs a VERY small subset of the proteins encoded. How does the cell know which ones it should express and how many of them? How do the controlling proteins know which sequences they should control? Regulatory elements. (That was was oversimplified, but you get the idea). There is no high-level/low-level DNA, no compiler, no linker. There are epigenetic modifications and posttranslational modifications, but these are for ensuring correct amount and function/transport of the proteins.
    The creationist thing is a strawman. Why would evolution set up a compiler as you suggested it? Because it would allow quicker changes to adapt to different environments which is beneficial for the one having such a thing. In fact HUGELY beneficial. In the same way you could argue that having eyes, ears, etc... is an argument for creationists
    The way too complex parts of the genome? Sorry, citation needed.
    The bacteria thing? They are much simpler in what they can do with their toolset. The thing they can do a lot better due to their simpler construction and high mutation rate (when you take bacteria as a group) is to adapt almost any condition. And in that respect they already "won". In our very own body, bacteria outnumber our own cells by a factor of 10 (wikipedia). Bacteria exist in practically any environment on this planet. So what was your point again?
    I'm not into the transmitter/reciever thing so I can't comment on that other than "citation needed".

You know that feeling when you're leaning back on a stool and it starts to tip over? Well, that's how I feel all the time. -- Steven Wright