Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fraud The Chief Reason Science Papers Are Retracted

Science Publication

An article in ScienceInsider says that the majority of scientific papers that undergo retraction are not due to honest scientific error, but fraud. It seems that the desire, if not urgency, to get published in the top journals has led some scientists to submit papers with less integrity and honesty than one presumes is required in science. The results of the findings were published yesterday online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS); the authors are microbiologists and journal editors Arturo Casadevall and Ferric Fang. Jennifer Couzin-Frankel writes:
Casadevall and Fang, who are fascinated by scientific integrity in publication, wanted to follow up on work published last year. Medical writer R. Grant Steen had reported in the Journal of Medical Ethics that 73.5% of 742 papers retracted between 2000 and 2010 were pulled because of errors. "What I was interested in was to see if we could understand the sources of error," says Casadevall, who runs a lab at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, and is editor-in-chief of mBio. That way, he and Fang thought, "we may find a way to improve science" by giving researchers a heads up about where the most common pitfalls lie.
They asked Steen to join them, and together searched PubMed for all retractions, coming up with a total of 2047 dating back to 1977. (PubMed primarily covers biomedical research.) Rather than rely just on retraction notices from journals— which in some cases they couldn't access without paying a fee, Casadevall says—they cross-referenced as many retractions as they could with other sources, including reports from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which investigates scientific misconduct.
At stake is the integrity of scientific research and its findings. The interesting point is the following, although the article might not have given it the due attention it deserves: "Although retractions are on the rise, they remain relatively rare in science. Well under 0.1% of papers in PubMed have been retracted, the study found; the database contains more than 25 million papers going back to the 1940s."  While this might be true, it raises more questions.

One unanswered question deserving attention is why retractions are increasing: Is it is due to laxness, a direct result of time constraints, in the peer-review process and a corresponding greater diligence on the part of readers post-publication? Or is there a greater dishonesty in scientists today who, feeling the pressure to publish (i.e., "peer pressure"), take risks that they ordinarily would not take elsewhere? I would be interested to know what scientists think.

You can read the rest of the article at [ScienceInsider]