Handling Research Misconduct

I recently ran across an article about a case of an author of a Nature paper who has requested a retraction because of what he believes is fraud on the part of his co-author in processing their dataset. (Nature: Symmetry Study Deemed a Fraud) This article got me thinking a little about the sources of fraud in the STEM fields and how we as graduate students are affected by it. 

A few things that contribute to academic fraud include the “Publish or Perish” pressure in academia, the belief (which may or may not be true) that we already know the answer and don’t want to do the work to confirm our belief, and times when no one else is going to try and reproduce your results. What I’ve read indicates that the third thing makes cases of academic fraud more common in biological fields where repeating an experiment with a different sample may not guarantee the same result.

Interestingly, recent studies indicate that there is a gender bias to the rate of fraud in science. According to the study detailed here, men are more likely to commit scientific fraud, even when you take into account the current gender breakdown in the fields.

Beyond the temptation to commit such fraudulent activity, there are additional potential consequences for graduate students. What happens if your advisor, someone in your group, or another collaborator is found guilty of fraud (even if its on another project than yours)? Suddenly your work is tainted by association, which could dramatically impact your chances for future jobs/publication. In general, scientific fraud can also impact public perception of your field and even push back the entire field as any work that uses the fraudulent results may be invalidated.

It is startling to consider all of the impacts of fraud and other research misconduct and something we all have to deal with (either directly or indirectly).

– Tabitha

For more information on this subject, I looked specifically at the following articles:

Original article: http://www.nature.com/news/symmetry-study-deemed-a-fraud-1.12932

Interesting Discussion on Fraud in Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111109/full/479151a.html

Article on Fraud from a professor at CalTech: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg/conduct_art.html

The Gender Bias in Fraud Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122101905.htm

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