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Studies Suggest Massive Increase In Scientific Fraud 229

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:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:02PM (#39751787)

      I am not sure about how much money is in it now compared to previous times. I work at a place that does scientific research and I know that the people around me regularly put a lot of work into proposals for which they have no guarantee of funding. These are good researchers with good projects. But they have to compete for most funding opportunities. Then you add in the issue of the politicization of funding. No, I am not going to make this about global warming. What I mean is that some who hold the purse strings have a pet subject and will put large amounts of funding into it while starving other, equally worthy subjects. So you have an excess in one area while another is not getting proper attention.

      • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:50PM (#39752709)

        It is just like politics. You target your grant request to something that has lots of money going into it. So you aren't studying the growth of an earth worm you are studying "the mechanism whereby c elegans regulates its cell division with direct relevance to the understanding of how human breast tissue becomes malignant.". But really for the next 5 years you'll be looking at worms not working on how to apply it to humans, you just don't mention that part.

        • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @10:18PM (#39753197) Homepage

          It is just like politics.

          Except for one important detail: In politics there's never any retractions.

          Seriously though, is anybody really surprised that there's wannabe idiots in science? Why should science be any different than any other human activity?

          • It should be different.

            Science/Math/Engineering are supposed to be the areas that relatively pure knowledge reign. I know, Academic backbiting and all, but 30 years ago (maybe?) Science was all about "Geeks, eew, who wants to talk to them?" but if they wheeled off "Calculations" they weren't far off. Your classic fun example was Doc Brown from Back to the Future. You called the Theory Total Bonkers, but you wrote that off as Mad-Science-Crazy, NOT Cheating.

            I feel the difference today - blatantly biased reports, ludicrous sample sizes, all kinds of Semi Science (maybe good ideas in there) being smashed out for 1 day blog article news.

    • 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.

      • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:56PM (#39752359) Journal
        They also have to fight and squabble for that money in ways they never had to do before, and they're under severe pressure to produce results, any results, within a certain length of time. Not that any scientist at a research institute should automatically get full funding, but they should be funded on a per project basis, instead of for a specific amount or a specific length of time. A hundred thousand dollar grant sounds great, but that's money the scientist doesn't see - it goes to pay the graduate assistants (who are eking out a living at near minimum wage while they finish their own degrees), the materials, the lab fees to the university, etc. A hundred thousand dollar grant will cover perhaps a year of research. The researcher is thus pressured to publish the results of the experiment within that one year, even if the experiment isn't actually done.
        • by godrik ( 1287354 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:12PM (#39753465)

          A hundred thousand dollar grant will cover perhaps a year of research.

          I can tell you, $100 000 does not cover a postdoc for a full year. Approximatively 9 month of postdoc. When you factor in the salary of the postdoc, the benefits, the university tax on all money that goes in, the $100 000 are gone before a year. I am not even talking about the price of the equipement or travel expenses that researcher will have to do at least once a year.

        • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:39PM (#39753573)

          In more civilized countries scientists like profs and postdocs are employed by universities and research organizations and don't have to search for funding all the time. That way they can focus on research, not begging, and don't have to be profit minded. That should also avoid the fake research.

          • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @09:21AM (#39755321)

            And who *does* "search for funding all the time"? There's not a big pool of money that everyone can dip into, and only the researchers themselves can tailor proposals with the detail and insight that are needed by people plunking down the money.
                    When I was in a University (in the U.S.), the P.I. still has to find and secure funding for the future. There's not unlimited money guaranteed two years down the line, let alone 7 - 10 years down the line, and certainly little from the University. At the National Lab where I am now, the situation is even worse, and overhead is two to three times what anyone can use for actual research or wages. At least at the University it was "only" 50%.

    • by composer777 ( 175489 ) * on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:47PM (#39752263)

      You must live on a planet where federal funding for scientific research hasn't seen severe budget cuts.

    • 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 grcumb ( 781340 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:52PM (#39753655) Homepage Journal

        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....

        That would be true if the problem space were finite, but it's not. The same level of likelihood exists that the next discovery will reveal a vast area of research with all kinds of low-hanging fruit. Standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were, means that our capabilities increase on a greater than linear basis.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @09:48PM (#39753031)
      Did they compare tobacco studies? I remember the studies from the tobacco companies showing tobacco use held health benefits.
    • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @10:21PM (#39753215) Homepage

      There's more money in it now.

      Not really, but there's more people competing for it. That means more incentive for the managers to exaggerate the importance/success of their work.

    • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:45PM (#39753607) Homepage Journal

      There's more money in it now.

      Not so much more money as different money.

      Much more of the academic scientific research being performed these days is corporate-funded, and a small but significant amount of that is aimed primarily at verifying the manufacturer's safety/viability claims. The companies in question shop their grant money around to the institution most amenable to their particular needs, which creates an environment that rewards expediency and compromise, sometimes at the cost of scientific rigour.

    • 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.

  • by Advocatus Diaboli ( 1627651 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @06:41PM (#39751577)
    That is old news. Research in many areas of academic science has been mostly unreproducible for some time. []
    • by jd ( 1658 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> 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 MindlessAutomata ( 1282944 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:34PM (#39752627)

        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.

        This is an extremely naive viewpoint born mostly out of ideology.

        Much, perhaps most, scientific fraud in published studies has little to do with corporate R&D. In fact, it's fighting for grant money in the publish-or-perish environment in academia that contributes to most fraud. The grant system itself, in its current incarnation, is probably the largest contributor to scientific fraud.

        It's this "business/capitalism-is-the-root-of-all-evil" Marxist reductionism that is getting really tiresome to read. I get it. You don't like business. Just don't try to boil down every ill in the world to "the corporations." When you do, you sometimes propose solutions that amplify the problem!

        And what did you even want to propose, anyway? No private scientific R&D? Are you mad?

        • by jd ( 1658 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Friday April 20, 2012 @09:53PM (#39753071) Homepage Journal

          Much, perhaps most, scientific fraud in published studies has little to do with corporate R&D.

          Cite, please. All references I can find are specifically to do with corporate sponsorship with journals and corporate sponsorship of reseach.

          It's this "business/capitalism-is-the-root-of-all-evil" Marxist reductionism that is getting really tiresome to read. I get it. You don't like business.

          This must be why I mentioned corporations putting money into the central pot. If there's any ideology here, it's yours, since you have evidently taken a few things utterly out of the context in which they were placed and imposed your own idea of what I "must have" meant according to some fantastically inaccurate wall-chart of phrases-to-politics.

          And what did you even want to propose, anyway?

          I said what I wanted to propose. In detail.

          No private scientific R&D?

          Plenty of private R&D in this framework. Private but decoupled.

          Are you mad?

          Those who have marked me as "foe" on Slashdot would say so. Those, like you, who simply don't read what I write and prefer to imagine what you want me to have written - well, that used to make me mad. These days, it makes me wish I could emigrate to Mars on the basis that microbes and amoeba offer better conversation.

          • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @04:44AM (#39754491)

            Here is an example for you, [] Please note that this "scientist" was funded by public money. Funding from a pool will not change misconduct by scientist who will fake results.

            Why should a corporation have to put research money into a pool that anyone can draw from? Corporations donate into areas thay are interested in. Why should an energy company spend money on researching background radiation. When people donate thy usually pick a cause; cancer, homelessness, poverty, etc. Corporation are basically doing the same thing.

      • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @03:31AM (#39754345)
        This is way too complicated. You can simplify the system a lot while keeping the same goals by repealing the publish or perish system. Give scientists the freedom NOT to publish. Instead of publishing 10 papers with the latest partial results in 3 years, let them publish 1 complete and final paper when they feel it's all been worked out and is ready. Don't make their employment depend on research output, and don't count publications.

        That will accomplish two things. 1) It will raise the standards of publication, because the authors won't be under pressure and the referees won't cut them any slack for that, and 2) it will cut down on the noise and volume of publications, so that people in the field will actually be able to read all the important output for a change.

        Papers shouldn't be treated like a currency.

        • by jd ( 1658 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Saturday April 21, 2012 @04:28AM (#39754459) Homepage Journal

          I agree that papers should not be treated as currency and that "publish or perish" should itself perish, but I refer you to the experiences of Open Source and of Open Science -- "release early, release often" tends to produce better results overall. The challenge is how to make use of this.

          The Open Source experience shows that multi-stage code reviews work better than single-stage, that testing is critical (even though we all hate doing it), that good documentation will always outperform bad documentation, that a central repository scores over fragmented repositories, and that finding stuff is one of the most important tasks a programmer has to perform.

          Seems simple enough. We know this model works, we know that the bits of this model that have been back-ported to academia have worked exceedingly well, so it would seem obvious enough to try back-porting the entire model and using that as a starting point for discussing how to fix science. Turns out that many of the key components already exist in some form in academia, so we know those components are doable with no extra effort.

          It may be that my model is too complex and that your suggestion is all that is needed, but I'd rather have a meaningful discussion on it than the trial-by-combat that I'm seeing from some of the other posters.

          • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @07:36AM (#39754917)
            The Open Source model is really a model that originated in academia, so it's not surprising that academia has still most of the pieces available.

            I'm somewhat skeptical about the release early, release often approach, though. Whereas the communication aspect of it is very good for teamwork, and that's really something that couldn't have happened world-wide before the internet, the downside is that it produces too much ancillary activity.

            You can see this in open source software as well. When a popular project attracts a lot of users, you get all this activity in the form of patches and plugins, which do all sorts of things. Then the main project advances, and the patches and plugins fall off the main trunk and rot away, unmaintained.

            It's inevitable for all big/popular projects: they can't incorporate everything (that leads to bloat) and they can't stop evolving (that leads to stagnation). For example, old Gnome/KDE apps are lost whenever these desktop environments bump the major version number, Linux kernel patches are lost if they can't be accepted in the main project, sourceforge/github projects undergo bitrot, etc.

            Transposed to academia this means that the burst of activity that accompanies release early, release often is largely illusory. A lot of that activity won't produce lasting value; it's mainly the core activity from the core group of people which survives time and remains influential. And that suggests that the pace of communication of research should be geared towards the core group's preferences. When its stable and mature enough, that's when it should be published widely (for the first time). Because if some outsider wants to build upon that, his work won't be undermined due to major changes in a short time.

  • nope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <> on Friday April 20, 2012 @06:44PM (#39751597) Homepage Journal

    retractions is a bad measurement.

    More and more data is open and available, so when 1 person committed fraud, it impacts many papers that come after it. The paper aren't committing fraud, there the victim of the first guy.

    So I could commit frauds, and after 10 year it could impact 100 papers.
    So retraction is a very poor way to determine this.

  • 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 AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:34PM (#39752129)

      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.

      This is so true, particularly in small or relatively new fields, and particularly in the "softer" sciences. I took a course a few years back concerning a relatively small subfield of cognitive studies (an area which intersects with another obscure discipline), and the instructor assigned a half dozen papers to read each week, and class members would present a summary.

      Basically, the instructor ended up using the primary literature of the field to show us how not to do good scientific research. About 90% of the time someone would point out a major "significant" correlation, the instructor would ask: but how many correlations did they try? Sometimes, there would be dozens and dozens of potential correlations checked in the article, and the one or two that actually worked would be touted as of "major significance."

      Except when you try that many things, chances are something's going to correlate with something else. If you set your threshold at 95% confidence (common in soft science experiments where you don't have enough funding to get a lot of subjects), you'll get a correlation from random data about 1 out of 20 times. If you do dozens of correlations, you'll always find something.

      But that wasn't the worst of it. The experiments were often poorly designed, because as an interdisciplinary subfield, most of the researchers didn't actually understand both areas that well. But the ambiguous manipulation of data then was generally used to justify the most absurd claims in the discussion section -- sweeping generalizations about how these findings might revolutionize our understanding of how the brain works or some other incredibly broad statement (usually false on its face, because the experiment was almost always so badly designed that it couldn't even say anything about the tiny subfield itself).

      And then -- the worst part. Future articles would propagate the absurd sweeping conclusions from the discussions sections as if they were fact. A decade later, many of these claims had become "accepted knowledge" in the field.

      I'd say about 75% of the articles we looked at -- and almost all of them were frequently cited and published in the central journals of the field -- were guilty of some sort of extreme bias in experiment design, data manipulation, or grossly exaggerated conclusions.

      I know these things are far less frequent in the "hard" sciences, but the things I took away from this course were (1) how to read scientific articles carefully, and (2) there's a lot of crap being published out there that is barely "scientific."

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @02:20AM (#39754117)
        In my course of getting a Phychology degree, we essentially covered how to get a survey to say whatever you want. If you want 95% of people to say UFOs exist, I can make a survey that will get you that result. If you want a survey that shows 95% of people don't believe in UFOs, I can make a survey that will get you that result. And if either doesn't work, I will fake the results. So any "soft" studies are viewed as lies by me until proved otherwise.
      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @04:07AM (#39754425)

        When I was doing my psych undergrad degree I saw many just amazingly shitty studies that were presented not as examples as what not to do, but as perfectly normal studies. Never did I see a study where the conclusion didn't support the hypothesis. It was never a case of "Our data was inconclusive, we can neither falsify nor support the hypothesis," (which you'd expect to see a lot with something as complex and varied as the mind) or "This data clearly falsifies our hypothesis, revision is required." Nope, always it was "Look! We proved we were right! Yay us!"

        Two that I remember the most:

        One was a study that "proved" (author's words) that violent video games caused violence. For this the author had one group of people play Unreal Tournament and another group play Myst. They then measured things like heart rate, "aggressive behaviour" and so on. Well in addition to the games being rather out of date at the time the problem I saw was that they were totally different. I mean shit they are lucky the people playing Myst had a pulse at all afterwards. It is a slow, slow game.

        I e-mailed them suggesting that they had at least one confounding variable, the intensity of the game, and that they should redo the study with that controlled. I said go ahead and still use the UT platform, but upgrade to UT2004 since it was newer, however have one group play the regular version with rockets n' lazars n' shit and another group play the freeze tag mod. That is still an intense, competitive, game but there's no violence. You just have a freeze ray that freezes opponents, or thaws friends.

        No response. They weren't interested in doing anything that could show they were wrong.

        The other was a study on our campus about Internet addiction. Most study "volunteers" for psych studies are undergrads that have to do it for course credit. So I decided to do that one. As soon as I started filling out the survey, there was trouble. It started off with things like "How long do you spend logged in to the Internet each day?" and "How long do you stay logged in on average each time?" Well this was mid 2000s. Like many people, particularly geeks, I had what we almost all have now: Always on Internet. I had DSL at home, and worked on campus. My computers were ALWAYS on the Internet. It was just a seamless part of my experience. I didn't log in and out, I just used it along with other shit.

        So I tried to tell the researcher that. She just couldn't understand the concept. She kept trying to say "Well ya ok but still, how much do you log in to it for?" and I kept trying to explain that there was no logging in, it was just there. Tried to use her computer, which was on the campus network, as an example. The problem was in her view running IE -was- logging in because it took like 30 seconds to launch on account of the system being so old and slow. She only did one thing at a time with the computer, and the Internet was a separate thing. She could not understand that many people, an increasing number every day, didn't work like that and the question wasn't valid.

        She pressed on with the study, unchanged, anyhow (without my data, I left).

        There was just this culture of "Come up with a theory, do a study, do whatever it takes to bash the data in to 'supporting' your theory, publish a paper that shows it as a success."

    • Agreed. However, it's all about "survival of the fittest". The current system favours the least work (since doing less means you can write more, and writing more means a higher citation score, which in turn means more funding), the work least likely to fail (negative results don't get published) and the work least likely to contradict prior work (repeat studies also don't get published).

      In order for quality science to survive, it HAS to be the fittest for purpose, which means we've got to change the purpose so that the above three flaws are selected against and not for.

  • 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.
  • asia is real big on tech the test and cheating aka (copying others) / doing solo work as group.

    But this is what you get when it's all about your test score and not about knowing what the test covers.

    Now we need to have a LOT more classes based on real work with maybe even no test / finale or a finale that useing more a real work setting.

    Also more tech / vol schools so college can take the load off and people can go to classes where they learn real skills and not loads of theory.

    College for all just drags college down and most jobs should need some post high school learning but not just college and not 4 years of it. Even 2 years of pure classroom is pushing it as well.

  • 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 AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:51PM (#39752309)

      Better to get crazy results out there than bury them in notebooks: sometimes they turn out to be major discoveries.

      That is true. However, if the results aren't firm, it is dishonest to present them as a major discovery. Lots of people are looking to make their results sound much more significant than they are to secure more grants or even to try to a hit in the media. The pressure isn't just to publish quickly, but also to publish ostentatiously. This leads to crazy conclusions and discussion sections that have little relationship to a reasonable interpretation of the significance of the data.

      The greater problem (in my view) isn't outright fraud or even incompetence in results that brings about a retraction -- it's gross exaggeration of the significance of results. (Most of the time, this won't even lead to a retraction.) Those unreliable "conclusions" often influence how future research is done, what is assumed knowledge in the field, etc.

    • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:33PM (#39753545) Journal
      So, [developers release applications] that haven't been [formally tested] as much as they perhaps should be. But this is not fraud, and perhaps it's even healthy. Better to get [software] out there than bury them in notebooks: sometimes they turn out to be major [milk cows].

      In my experience as a developer what has increased is my age and my insistence on a clean but flexible line between the time-and-effort my employer has purchased and my remaining stock of time-and-effort.
    • by ioshhdflwuegfh ( 1067182 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @07:02AM (#39754847)

      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.

      In some sciences there is so-called peer-review process. So it seems to me that scientists you mention who publish not thoroughly checked papers point also to the failure of the journals you don't mention to do at least semi-decent peer-reviewing process.

      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.

      So for instance, when some not sufficiently checked results for medical treatments get published, you'd say that this is perhaps healthy?

  • 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.
  • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:03PM (#39751793) Homepage
    Has anyone thought of good ways of combating this? Is it possible to have every study "peer reviewed" by a completely independent, impartial party. And by that, I don't just mean the checking the paper itself, but overseeing the ENTIRE experiment from start to finish including the production of the data so that it can't be skewed.

    We'll need double the amount of people, but in the end, science could grow 10x faster.
    • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:20PM (#39751969)

      Also, double the money.

      The question becomes, if we invest double the money and double the number of people, should we invest it in checking results or in expanding into more directions?

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:43PM (#39752229) Homepage
        Checking surely? Even if someone thinks their own motives are genuine, sometimes they can fool themselves.

        We go the extra mile with the double blind test gold standard, yet the factor of scientific fraud and deceit is perhaps an even greater issue. I think even having 2 people (unrelated) watching over each experiment from each scientist would be of great benefit to everybody in the end.

        As someone else said, an inaccurate paper can affect all the papers which come to rely on that as a source, multiplying the 'bug' in a deadly way.
        • Re:Decent validation (Score:5, Interesting)

          by SomeKDEUser ( 1243392 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @10:43PM (#39753313)

          Gahh. Pet peeve of mine: I have come to the conclusion that people on the American side of the Atlantic don't understand what a model or a theory is for.

          Science is not a collection of facts: it is a collection of theories supported by facts. When someone tries to publish something without model or explanation, it is your duty as a reviewer to reject the article with great prejudice. Because it it the theories that advance science.

          This is because although the experiments will not get repeated (sure, they might if we scientists had job security and enough funding -- won't happen), the theories and models will get tested with new experiments. And this is really how science advances. Real science is the formulation of theories and not testing randomly new drugs: this also has marginal utility, but can never be as solid as, say, the theory of gravitation. Therefore, don't be surprised when people publish results that turn out to be a fluke, when they are pressed for time: this is because the reviewers accepted papers which were not framed within theories. Models and theories based on first principles are the only thing one can be reasonably certain of...

          I suspect that the reason climate science and evolution are misunderstood in America more than elsewhere is that the education system here does not emphasize systematic knowledge and the power of models. Evolution cannot be "experimentally proven". but it can be used to formulate a great number of hypotheses which can then be verified experimentally.

    • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:58PM (#39752385)

      Is it possible to have every study "peer reviewed" by a completely independent, impartial party. And by that, I don't just mean the checking the paper itself, but overseeing the ENTIRE experiment from start to finish including the production of the data so that it can't be skewed.

      The "impartial" party would need to be made scientists of the same area of research to have the know-how to oversee the experiment, at which point it becomes "you cover my ass and I cover yours".

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:28PM (#39752585) Homepage
        Yes, but maybe we could engineer the industry so that the checking scientist has nothing to gain or lose by hiding anything. One step towards that outcome is by ensuring they can't check each other's work at any point (only one sided).

        At least three different research departments would be needed:
        A checks B
        B checks C
        C checks A

        Would that work? I'm just throwing ideas around, but someone's gotta try. If that too becomes a circle-jerk, then maybe we could try this:

        A checks D
        B checks E
        C checks F
        (where A/B/C can't publish any papers of their own, and are paid a fixed amount).

        There's got to be something we can do, to at least mitigate the problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:12PM (#39751883)

    Perhaps the journals just don't do enough due-diligence anymore? The rush to publish in a world with 24-hour news and the internet...

  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:16PM (#39751919)

    Fraud isn't science, and I don't trust any study that suggests increasing it. I suggest a decrease in fraud.

  • 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 Brandano ( 1192819 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:26PM (#39752023)
    How am I supposed to trust the results of these studies anyway?
  • ... 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.
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:47PM (#39752269) Homepage

    ...increase in transparency? I suspect that there was at least as much of this sort of stuff decades ago but most of it was handled behind closed doors.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @07:59PM (#39752391)
    I've always wondered if 50% or more cheat on tests and papers in college, how does that fall to zero by PhD? Well I guess it does not.
  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:09PM (#39752455)

    So I made projections of when the number of retractions would equal the number of articles, but I found an error in my data set.

    I had to retract it.

  • 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?
  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:18PM (#39752511)

    It might be interesting to think about the ways that increases in scientific fraud parallels the recent financial industry meltdown that resulted from the mortgage industry mess.

    In the mortgage industry back in the old-old days, when you wanted to borrow money, you took your information (w2, bank account statements, etc,) down to the local bank which analyzed your finances and issued you a loan based on thier "gut" feeling on your credit worthiness. This was found to be a very non-scaleable, often discriminatory system, however the risk was localized therefore immediate feedback was available (banks that issued too many bad loans failed).

    Then the industry evolved. Credit reporting agencies and credit scores were created to reduce discrimination, and automate decision processes and help quantify risk, and packaging was created to securitize loans which effectively aggregated and anonymized both borrowers and banks and attempted to present an abstract risk profile to folks investing in debt. The risk/return profile of this investment created a high demand for more securitized loans, creating a scarcity. What happens when demand exceeds supply? Either the price goes up (the yield of the debt investment goes down when the price goes up), or some risk takers will attempt to increase the supply by substituting marginal quality goods (loans that aren't well vetted). Then when others see their success with marginal quality goods, even the regular suppliers take the plunge and drop their quality to maintain their market share. Large coalitions enter the field and start to game the system. The lack of information available to the investors due to anonymization and aggregation amd increased leverage (firms started using derivatives and CDOs to invest in mortages) set us up for the financial industry fall. Then the cards all fell down.

    Historically, scientific publishing when you wanted to get your paper published, you sent a pre-print to a journal and they attemped to referee the paper based on the "gut" feeling of their reviewers. This was fairly unscalable and often discriminatory system, but the risk of a poor quality paper was localized to the journal (basically journals that published too many bad papers would lose credibility).

    We are in the midst of an evolution in scientific publishing. Now there are many mroe researchers and many more journals. Many journals don't have the staff to do a good job a vetting the papers, and the specialization, cost and expense of many research fields make peer-review "santity" checking across different research groups difficult. Ironically, as we have more information about science, we have less information about the quality of that information. Since published results attract scarce research dollars, the cost of doing good research that results in published papers go up (reducing the ROI on research dollars), or some risk takers will attempt to attract scarce research dollars with sub-quality work... and so on...

    Let's hope that large coalitions don't enter to game the system, nor research grants are anonymized from author and institution as researchers move around and institutions do joint projects, nor that large research projects leverage questionable earlier research w/o information or verification or we may be building a similar house of cards with scientific research literature. Isn't scientific literature supposed to all be about leverage (standing on the shoulders of giants)? Aren't certain publication too-big-to-fail? Aren't large research coalitions monopolizing areas of grant money in certain fields and effectively owning the available peer-review resources? Maybe we've already set the table and just don't know it yet.

    Some food for thought...

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @09:16PM (#39752861) Journal
    China is loaded with it due to lack of morals. And as we see more and more chinese occupying American universities, we will see more and more positions based on cheating. Kind of funny that China is destroying American academia by basing theirs on fraud and lies. And yet, we continue to allow it to happen. So sad.
  • by gtirloni ( 1531285 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @10:21PM (#39753211)
    Nuff said.
  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @03:31AM (#39754341)

    Which scientific theory has been in the media for over a decade... and has been the subject of dozens of high level and consistent retractions?

    And yet retains unwavering support despite no disclosure of methodology, no disclosure of raw data, and no ability to predict future or even past conditions using the model...

    It's a problem. This happens when the science isn't put first. When anything else involves itself... be it money or power or sex or ideology or religion it all goes to hell. The science has to come first. Scientists have to be detached and disinterested in what results they get so long as they're accurate.

    Personally, I think the biggest thing they could do is make data collection a more prestigious position within the scientific community. Currently, it seems like all the status goes to the people that theorize on the data. But without the data there can be no theory. And without really accurate data even a good theorist will come to wrong conclusions.

    Possibly divide up the scientific community much as a hospital is divided. Diagnosticians are divided from surgeons. Some of them are really good at working things out and some are really good at literally fixing people. By the same token, accurate data collection is not easy. It often requires a lot of leg work or exposure to uncomfortable conditions. Maybe you're playing with really nasty chemicals. Maybe you're crawling around in deep caves. Whatever. Make data collection an end unto itself. Possibly even subdivide the scientists further by tasking a third branch with sorting, storing, and providing the information for the theorists. In this way, the data should be collected without any bias as to what it should prove. People will just be collecting it to collect it rather then collecting it specifically to prove their pet theory. And then the librarians will offer that data to all the theorists on request. It will be very hard for scientists to bias results given that the raw data is freely available.

    This would sort of be like a blind survey. If theorists want a given type of data, they put in an official request for someone to collect it... Scientists elsewhere collect that data and upload it to the librarians. The librarians then make it available to all the theorists. This separation between A B and C would make fraud more difficult.

    Access to the librarians data might be conditional on your university providing data to the librarians. So, if someone at your university collects data on the mating habits of butterflies you would be download data on the concentrations of dark matter in the milkyway. Some sort of quid pro quo systems that makes data collection a requirement so you don't get a whole university of theorists that never collect any data and just analyze other people's data.

    Maybe I'm full of crap... I think that would helpl

  • by cas2000 ( 148703 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @05:16AM (#39754583)

    this is the 2nd or 3rd similar article i've seen in recent months.

    it's starting to smell a lot like a publicity campaign to discredit science in general. ...wonder if these studies are being funded by oil companies or their shills, or neo-liberal think tanks with a vested interest in discrediting science in general and climate science in particular.

  • by syngularyx ( 1070768 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @06:14AM (#39754719) [] I think this is related to the biggest problem in science, i.e, the HUGE NUMBER of persons working in this field and consequently, the total number of publications.

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