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Misconduct, Not Error, Is the Main Cause of Scientific Retractions 123

ananyo writes "One of the largest-ever studies of retractions has found that two-thirds of retracted life-sciences papers were stricken from the scientific record because of misconduct such as fraud or suspected fraud — and that journals sometimes soft-pedal the reason. The study contradicts the conventional view that most retractions of papers in scientific journals are triggered by unintentional errors. The survey examined all 2,047 articles in the PubMed database that had been marked as retracted by 3 May this year. But rather than taking journals' retraction notices at face value, as previous analyses have done, the study used secondary sources to pin down the reasons for retraction if the notices were incomplete or vague. The analysis revealed that fraud or suspected fraud was responsible for 43% of the retractions. Other types of misconduct — duplicate publication and plagiarism — accounted for 14% and 10% of retractions, respectively. Only 21% of the papers were retracted because of error (abstract)."
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Misconduct, Not Error, Is the Main Cause of Scientific Retractions

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  • by jabberwock ( 10206 ) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @02:16PM (#41528659) Homepage
    I think that the article implicitly misrepresents the level of misconduct by leaving out some relevant statistics. ... More than 2,000 scientific articles, retracted! And ... fraud! ... plagiarism!

    In context -- PubMed has more than 22 million documents and accepts 500,000 a year, according to Wikipedia.

    So, to do the math: Number of fraudulent articles, total, = vanishingly small percentage of the total articles.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @02:57PM (#41529233)

    > So, to do the math: Number of fraudulent articles, total, = vanishingly small percentage of the total articles.

    Those are only the ones that get discovered. I roll my eyes often when I read medical papers. The statistics are frequently hopelessly muddled (and occasionally just plain wrong on their face), the studies are set up poorly (as in, I would expect better study designs from first year students), or they are obvious cases of plagarism.

    EX: does early fertility predict future fertility. "We divide the population into two groups: women aged 20 to 30, and women aged 20 to 40. We find that fertility in the first group predicts fertility in the second group with R^2=.46" Well no shit, because the second group includes the first group, so of course they correlate. If you redo the stats correctly, you find that R=0.001. This paper still stands...

    EX: "we found that eating walnuts increases male fertility." No shit. Walnuts are known to be high in Arginine. Arginine is known to increase male fertility (multiple studies already on this). Next, the same group will publish a breakthrough study on male fertility and pumpkin seeds (hint:pumpkin seeds have twice the Arginie concentration as walnuts). The study authors try hard to hide their plagarism though, not once mentioning Arginie. They hypothesize that it is from the ALA in the walnuts... which is BS because they could have tested an ALA hypothesis using flax-seed oil. Oh, and I forgot to mention that this study was not even done single-blind. No placebos were used. One group was given walnuts (not in concealed form, just plain walnuts), the other was given nothing. This paper also still stands...

  • You might be tempted to think that this means ordinary errors aren't as common as we thought. Lots of papers - actually most papers, at least in medicine - are wrong for reasons like the author being confused, doing the statistics wrong, or using a type of experiment that can't support the conclusions drawn. But merely publishing a paper that's bullshit? That usually isn't enough to trigger a retraction, because retracting papers looks bad for the journals. Only an accusation of Serious Willful Misconduct can reliably force a retraction.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury