The validity and quality of research underpin the entire research enterprise worldwide. However, a number of studies have shown that many researchers take “shortcuts” and that perhaps 1-3% of research is grossly false, fitting into the category of research misconduct.
Research misconduct has been defined in US federal law as fabrication, plagiarism and/or falsification. Identified cases have been few, often limited to easy-to-identify falsified figures in published papers.
However, these may be the tip of the iceberg:
Godlee’s report of widespread research misconduct is disturbing and, I believe, generalises to the US.1 2 It’s not just the fact that it is happening, but that it reflects a culture within which new researchers are socialised. Previous research indicates the motivators for dishonesty include a high pressure achievement oriented environment, where “if everybody else is doing it, it must be OK.”3
The problem also underscores how important are reanalysis and replication of reported research, a recent topic on the US Institutional Review Board Forum (www.irbforum.org/forum/). But, get this, “Ginny Barbour, a senior editor with the PLoS group of journals, said one third of authors could not find the original data to back up figures in scientific papers when these were questioned.” I wonder how many journal editors seek to discover and reject such authors. I wonder how meticulous the US Food and Drug Administration is in policing the input it receives in support of marketing approval for new drugs and medical devices.
These behaviours are beyond the reach of surveillance by institutional review boards and research ethics boards, and they indicate the need for a new end product quality control system.4 The simplifying assumptions about the efficacy of peer review and professional ethics and responsibility fail miserably when the emperor is discovered marching around buck naked.
- Godlee F. Research misconduct is widespread and harms patients [Editor’s Choice]. BMJ2012;344:e14. (5 January.)
- Martinson BC, Anderson MS, deVries R. Scientists behaving badly. Nature435;2005:737-8.
- Vedantam S. Cheating is an awful thing for other people to do. Washington Post2006. www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/20/AR2006082000501.html.
- Noble JH Jr. Peer review: quality control of applied social research. Science1974;185:916-21.
See A key player in stoking this Swine Flu hysteria was Dr Iain Stephenson, a Consultant at University Hospital of Leicester NHS Trust who has been found guilty of vaccine research fraud on a grand scale by the General Medical Council (GMC).
See Thirteen per cent of scientists or doctors have said they know of colleagues who have fabricated data in order to get research published. More than one in ten (13%) scientists or doctors have witnessed colleagues intentionally altering or fabricating data to get published or during their research, a poll suggests. The survey of almost 2,800 experts in the UK also found 6% knew of possible research misconduct at their institution that has not been properly investigated. The poll, for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is being presented at a meeting aimed at tackling research misconduct in the UK. 13 January 2012
See Mental scores decline precipitously at 30 months after anthrax vaccine, but CDC spins study to say vaccine safe Thursday, January 12, 2012
See http://www.theoneclickgroup.co.uk/news.php?id=6732#newspost Patient No. 28665 was helping a Chesterfield company test a drug dubbed the “female Viagra” but stopped showing up for exams in December 2007. That didn’t stop a staffer of the company, PPS Clinical Research STL, from claiming that six months later the patient came in for an exam, was diagnosed with medical conditions, had undergone tests and even had given a urine sample. That admission was made in the company’s guilty plea to a federal felony charge of obstructing a proceeding of a federal agency. The drug the company helped test, aimed at women who suffered from an unexplained lack of sexual desire, never made it to market. As part of the plea, PPS admitted that it “corruptly influenced, obstructed, and impeded” an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration by providing false patient records in May 2010. During the trials, the drug’s manufacturer faulted PPS for failing to have a trained investigator conduct some exams, for back dating records and for failing to properly oversee one patient’s selection for the study, according to prosecutors. Boehringer did not respond to emails seeking comment.
See http://www.theoneclickgroup.co.uk/news.php?id=6610#newspost A well-known psychologist in the Netherlands whose work has been published widely in professional journals falsified data and made up entire experiments, an investigating committee has found. Experts say the case exposes deep flaws in the way science is done in a field, psychology, that has only recently earned a fragile respectability.
See Reporting of Conflicts of Interest in Meta-analyses of Trials of Pharmacological Treatments. Michelle Roseman, BA; Katherine Milette, BSc; Lisa A. Bero, PhD; James C. Coyne, PhD; Joel Lexchin, MD; Erick H. Turner, MD; Brett D. Thombs, PhD. JAMA. 2011;305(10):1008-1017. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.257