Scientific misconduct is the reason for two-thirds of retractions of scientific research papers, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in the USA.
Retractions are not always explained, or the real reasons are covered up. The study’s authors – Arturo Casadevall, Ferric Fang and R. Grant Steen – decided to investigate this further and examine the underlying causes behind retractions. In this comprehensive study they looked at over 2,000 retracted articles in the PubMed database going back to the 1940s.
Their analysis shows that 67.2% of retractions were because of fraud, suspected fraud or plagiarism rather than honest mistakes. It also reveals that retractions are on the rise. This is partly explained by the fact that publishers have been using software to detect plagiarism and duplication since 2005.
On the positive side, fraud does not appear to be widespread, with just 38 research groups responsible for 43.9 percent of retractions for fraud or suspected fraud.
An increase in detection levels does not necessarily mean fraud is increasing, just that it is being spotted more. Some scientists, however, such as Danielle Fanelli of the University of Edinburgh, are linking the rise in scientific fraud to the growing pressure of academics to publish in an increasingly harsh financial climate.
VA studies have shown that scientific fraud has a corrosive effect on public trust in science and research in Sweden. Fang and Casadevall, two authors of this new report, have expressed concern that their study could be “misused to erode public trust in science”. However they believe that “sweeping misconduct under the rug would be even more harmful”. Perhaps this research can help do more to tackle the problem and restore some lost public confidence.
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