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Studies Suggest Massive Increase In Scientific Fraud

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the can-we-blame-this-on-madoff dept.

Science 229

Titus Andronicus writes "Scientific fraud has always been with us. But as stated or suggested by some scientists, journal editors, and a few studies, the amount of scientific 'cheating' has far outpaced the expansion of science itself. According to some, the financial incentives to 'cut corners' have never been greater, resulting in record numbers of retractions from prestigious journals. From the article: 'For example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent.'"

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229 comments

Surpised? (3, Insightful)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751537)

There's more money in it now.

Re:Surpised? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751569)

Citation needed

Re:Surpised? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751869)

Indeed, how do we know this study is not a fraud!?

dadeeda lamefilter

It's very old news (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752967)

If you think that "new money" coming in to fund those research is the culprit, think again

Back 2 or 3 decades ago a lot of so-called "studies" or "research findings" had already come into questions regarding their validity

For example:

A "study" financed by "Dairy Farmer Association" would definitely come up with the result that "Milk is good for you"

A "research paper" backed by "Pork Industry" would show you how pork is "another white meat" ... and so on ... and so forth

Re:Surpised? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751591)

and scientist with employment contract that say they must publish X number of papers each year or be fired

Re:Surpised? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751787)

I am not sure about how much money is in it now compared to previous times. I work at a place that does scientific research and I know that the people around me regularly put a lot of work into proposals for which they have no guarantee of funding. These are good researchers with good projects. But they have to compete for most funding opportunities. Then you add in the issue of the politicization of funding. No, I am not going to make this about global warming. What I mean is that some who hold the purse strings have a pet subject and will put large amounts of funding into it while starving other, equally worthy subjects. So you have an excess in one area while another is not getting proper attention.

Re:Surpised? (1)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752709)

It is just like politics. You target your grant request to something that has lots of money going into it. So you aren't studying the growth of an earth worm you are studying "the mechanism whereby c elegans regulates its cell division with direct relevance to the understanding of how human breast tissue becomes malignant.". But really for the next 5 years you'll be looking at worms not working on how to apply it to humans, you just don't mention that part.

Re:Surpised? (2)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753197)

It is just like politics.

Except for one important detail: In politics there's never any retractions.

Seriously though, is anybody really surprised that there's wannabe idiots in science? Why should science be any different than any other human activity?

what planet are you living on? (5, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752007)

There's more money in it now.

While more money is spent in science, the scientists themselves have in general not had a meaningful raise in some time. Anyone who goes in to science to make money is, to say the least, misguided. Scientific research is often the least profitable venture you can pursue with a PhD.

The additional money being spent in science is largely going to keep the lights on in the lab. Scientists need to pay for their utilities and consumables, all of which have risen in price while their wages generally have not.

Re:what planet are you living on? (5, Informative)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752359)

They also have to fight and squabble for that money in ways they never had to do before, and they're under severe pressure to produce results, any results, within a certain length of time. Not that any scientist at a research institute should automatically get full funding, but they should be funded on a per project basis, instead of for a specific amount or a specific length of time. A hundred thousand dollar grant sounds great, but that's money the scientist doesn't see - it goes to pay the graduate assistants (who are eking out a living at near minimum wage while they finish their own degrees), the materials, the lab fees to the university, etc. A hundred thousand dollar grant will cover perhaps a year of research. The researcher is thus pressured to publish the results of the experiment within that one year, even if the experiment isn't actually done.

Re:what planet are you living on? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752839)

I disagree with you both. Getting funded per project sounds like a blank check for a never-ending project. Face it. Some people are not going to produce any results in part because they aren't cut out to be researchers but should be in some other occupation where, for one thing, they can live comfortably on what they make. The other unpleasant truth is that there is a limit to the point where grants and even research can crack open the secrets of the universe. It often takes time, new technologies and discoveries, and different ways of thinking critically, but not necessarily funding. I don't see any huge cuts in R&D money in the public realm. The fact is that it's just contributing to the public debt in proportion to all the other government expenditures. While it may unfair to blame, let's say, high energy physicists for medicare and social security fiscal insanity, the elephant in the room is that lights are going to go out everywhere when the government can no longer find or print cash. Privately funded R&D may be on the decline, but it could recover, especially if publicly funded R&D has been crowding it out all this time. If there ever is a time when there are significant cuts to public R&D, we may see more of the unprofessional behavior that this article complains about, but then that would confirm what skeptics have suspected about a lot of R&D. Science is making human life better at a faster and faster rate, but the "singularity" or some sort of techno-utopia isn't going to happen on anyone's watch. The people funding all this R&D have to live according to their own means, or in the long run we're all dead.

Re:what planet are you living on? (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752945)

The problem is that all the cheap science has been done already. We're left with nothing but the really expensive science.

Re:what planet are you living on? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39753003)

Don't forget that of the $100k it's quite possible that the university will take around half for overhead under the name of "indirect expenses". That's what's typically supposed to keep the lights on, building open, network connected etc whether the lab uses or needs it or not. It doesn't leave much for direct expenses like salaries and materials. Moreover, if you are looking at US NIH grants every grant that receives a fundable review score only get's a fraction of the requested amount. So propose the science you want to do, get a killer score on the merit of the proposal and then you have to do it with 80% of the money you said it would take.

Re:Surpised? (1, Troll)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752111)

Hence: Global Climate "Science"

Re:Surpised? (0)

chrisphotonic (2450982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752207)

And you thought religions lies were bad...

Re:Surpised? (1)

composer777 (175489) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752263)

You must live on a planet where federal funding for scientific research hasn't seen severe budget cuts.

Re:Surpised? (5, Insightful)

pz (113803) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752577)

There's more money in it now.

Actually, it's quite rather the opposite: there's not enough money, so competition for scant funding is intense. Two days ago I saw a presentation by Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH, who was really trying very hard to put a positive spin on resarch and the source that it provides for economic recovery. He was trying really, really hard. Why? Because if you look at the inflation-adjusted budget of the NIH, it's been going down ever since 1978, and is currently closing in to about 20% off the peak. In the meantime, the number of applications has skyrocketed to the point that fewer than 25% of applications are being funded. In my subfield, that number is closer to between 7 and 9%. When competition is that fierce, the temptation to fudge data is huge.

But his arguments were solid: there has been rarely a better ROI on governmental programs than the NIH budget with a factor of at least 2x overall (each $1 in NIH budget results in $2 in GDP), and individual cases that are well over 100x (like the Human Genome Project). Research, nationally funded research, is one of the basic means for seeding long-term economic growth. If you are in biomedical science or its related basic fields, you should contact your congressmen and insist that the NIH and NSF budgets be increased: we need another doubling, like we saw during the Clinton administration.

Re:Surpised? (3, Insightful)

PingPongBoy (303994) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752873)

There's more money in it now.

On a different tack, rather than money, it may be due to another theory of economics, the law of diminishing returns. As more discoveries are made, it becomes harder to make discoveries, but with the human population growing at least linearly and the population of researchers keeping pace, the rate of good research results is under great pressure to keep up. Add to this the specter of funding cuts and people not wanting to lose their research jobs, and the sheer volume of research results being reported. Human nature completes the syllogism: there will be more falsification.

Re:Surpised? (2)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753031)

Did they compare tobacco studies? I remember the studies from the tobacco companies showing tobacco use held health benefits.

Re:Surpised? (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753215)

There's more money in it now.

Not really, but there's more people competing for it. That means more incentive for the managers to exaggerate the importance/success of their work.

Furriners? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751539)

I keep hearing that America is falling behind in the publishing wars as well, how do the numbers stack up as "Fraudulent Submissions" vrs. "Increase in Articles from Crappy Countries"?

Re:Furriners? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751599)

You'll need to be more specific. Defining "crappy countries" as every not-American country doesn't work.

Re:Furriners? (2)

wisty (1335733) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751943)

China and India. Fraud and plagiarism are pretty prevalent in both.

Of course, they don't get much fraudulent or plagiarized work into big journals, and the big journals prefer researchers with a good reputation. I suspect that analysing the actual retraction data would show who's responsible. Is it hungrier researchers in newly developed countries (who have a greater incentive to lie), or researchers in "good" countries (or "good" universities) who aren't subject to as much scrutiny?

You can probably tell by breaking down the data. Until someone does, it's not worth speculating.

Dystopic Reward System (5, Interesting)

Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751577)

That is old news. Research in many areas of academic science has been mostly unreproducible for some time. http://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/why-all-publicised-breakthroughs-are-lies/ [wordpress.com]

Re:Dystopic Reward System (4, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752425)

This is why I would argue for a shake-up of how science is funded and how papers are refereed, published and post-publish reviewed.

Science should NOT be corporate-funded, it should be grant-funded -- directly from a scientific organization like NIST, or indirectly via university (or other educational) departments. Corporations should be entitled to push money into a grant pool and should also be entitled to suggest problems to study, but there should be absolutely NO link between the providers of the money and the providers of the science. Scientists MUST be free to say a claim is wrong, obtain negative results or otherwise get results corporations aren't going to like. Sorry, the universe doesn't give a flying what your CEO says.

A paper should NOT be considered as having been refereed until the work has been reproduced. But what constitutes reproduction of a result? At least some forgeries have involved people taking prior published papers and doing a cut-and-paste on the tables of results. The values now necessarily agree. Is that reproduction of results? No. Conclusion - a copy of the lab notes during the experiments should be placed in escrow with the journal. Once the peer reviewers have also submitted their lab notes, the complete collection is released to a second-stage peer review to determine if the collection suggests anyone "cooked the books". Only when a paper passes second-stage review is it published.

Next, there need to be central scientific libraries that collect ALL journals (regardless of obscurity), ALL reviewed lab notes, etc, making that information available to absolutely anyone, with PROPER linkage between research (Semantic Web has nothing on this!). Journals will claim they need to make a profit -- fine, embargo new publications for N months after pay-per-view publication. Since I'm arguing for quality indexing, and given that takes time, such a library can't publish instantly anyway.

What to do with negative results, though? Journals hate publishing those. So, have the central funding agencies ALSO fund an "open journal" that ONLY publishes negative results. Journals can't complain that it's competing, since there's no overlap.

Ok, but even with all of that, nobody has time to read every paper and certainly nobody has time to go back and correlate current science with past papers even if all this information was available. Doesn't matter. If there's a central store of everything, and that everything is properly linked up, the reasoners that have already been written for Semantic Web logic will work on those links to determine if the data is internally consistent. That information can be passed back to the funding agencies to determine what experiments are needed (if any) to identify what results are good, what ones are fraud and what ones are merely incompetent.

This sort of framework is relatively open (anyone can join as a publisher, anyone can join as a researcher, anyone can throw money into the pool), but more importantly the information is open and the information lifecycle is a closed loop. Even if the majority of past data is bad in any given field, this system would make bad data unsustainable because it can't pass through a two-stage review anything like as easily as it can a one-stage because the criteria differ, and even if it did get through, it then has to handle an automated consistency check.

Yes, this is serious infrastructure we're talking. However, science journals cost many times more to publish in than open journals (roughly, $8,000 an article less, assuming the typical conversion rates [guardian.co.uk] ). You don't need to hand that many papers being published before the cost of all the infrastructure needed matches the amount saved. The money then saved from eliminating the bad science then becomes pure profit, which can be ploughed into new work.

Re:Dystopic Reward System (2)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752627)

Science should NOT be corporate-funded, it should be grant-funded -- directly from a scientific organization like NIST, or indirectly via university (or other educational) departments.

This is an extremely naive viewpoint born mostly out of ideology.

Much, perhaps most, scientific fraud in published studies has little to do with corporate R&D. In fact, it's fighting for grant money in the publish-or-perish environment in academia that contributes to most fraud. The grant system itself, in its current incarnation, is probably the largest contributor to scientific fraud.

It's this "business/capitalism-is-the-root-of-all-evil" Marxist reductionism that is getting really tiresome to read. I get it. You don't like business. Just don't try to boil down every ill in the world to "the corporations." When you do, you sometimes propose solutions that amplify the problem!

And what did you even want to propose, anyway? No private scientific R&D? Are you mad?

Re:Dystopic Reward System (4, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753071)

Much, perhaps most, scientific fraud in published studies has little to do with corporate R&D.

Cite, please. All references I can find are specifically to do with corporate sponsorship with journals and corporate sponsorship of reseach.

It's this "business/capitalism-is-the-root-of-all-evil" Marxist reductionism that is getting really tiresome to read. I get it. You don't like business.

This must be why I mentioned corporations putting money into the central pot. If there's any ideology here, it's yours, since you have evidently taken a few things utterly out of the context in which they were placed and imposed your own idea of what I "must have" meant according to some fantastically inaccurate wall-chart of phrases-to-politics.

And what did you even want to propose, anyway?

I said what I wanted to propose. In detail.

No private scientific R&D?

Plenty of private R&D in this framework. Private but decoupled.

Are you mad?

Those who have marked me as "foe" on Slashdot would say so. Those, like you, who simply don't read what I write and prefer to imagine what you want me to have written - well, that used to make me mad. These days, it makes me wish I could emigrate to Mars on the basis that microbes and amoeba offer better conversation.

Re:Dystopic Reward System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39753073)

Yes, this is serious infrastructure we're talking. However, science journals cost many times more to publish in than open journals (roughly, $8,000 an article less, assuming the typical conversion rates [guardian.co.uk] ). You don't need to hand that many papers being published before the cost of all the infrastructure needed matches the amount saved. The money then saved from eliminating the bad science then becomes pure profit, which can be ploughed into new work.

I am not sure you have a good sense of how much scientific research costs, how much the changes you're proposing will increase those costs. The cost of publication is almost trivial compared to the costs of actually doing the research. The increased cost of validating the research in the way you suggest will probably be an order of magnitude(or more) larger than the cost of publication.

To pick the suggestion that stands out the most:

A paper should NOT be considered as having been refereed until the work has been reproduced. But what constitutes reproduction of a result? At least some forgeries have involved people taking prior published papers and doing a cut-and-paste on the tables of results. The values now necessarily agree. Is that reproduction of results? No. Conclusion - a copy of the lab notes during the experiments should be placed in escrow with the journal. Once the peer reviewers have also submitted their lab notes, the complete collection is released to a second-stage peer review to determine if the collection suggests anyone "cooked the books". Only when a paper passes second-stage review is it published.

This sounds great, but there are several reasons why this is unworkable.
1) For one, the amount of time that a scientist spends peer reviewing will balloon to be most of their time (and resources).
2) This assumes it is straightforward for another scientist to reproduce the work. In many cases, especially for cutting edge experiments, the paper under review will discuss a very difficult experiment to perform, or even an entirely new experiment. The reviewers will have to learn how to perform the experiment, and acquire or even build new equipment. Without close interaction with the people who wrote the original paper, the exercise will be next to impossible. There are many reasons why they might fail to reproduce the results that do not mean the results are irreproducible.
3) The referees, having performed this, now have a huge head start on everyone else reading the paper, who, if they wish to perform follow up studies or use the method, have to wait for the paper to come out before they can start learning about what was done and begin their own ramp up (which will necessarily involve reproducing the initial results anyway). Even if they only want to do a complementary study, the referee team has had a substantial amount of time to digest the results, and figure out what to do, and even start doing it. This is actually already somewhat of a problem with the referee process already - the difference is that instead of maybe months of a head start they'll have years. You might argue that the use of preprint servers will mitigate this, but then you'll have cases where, before the referee process finishes, someone else will have read the preprint, learned how to do the experiment, validated it, and generated new results, essentially making the whole thing moot.
 

nope (4, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751597)

retractions is a bad measurement.

More and more data is open and available, so when 1 person committed fraud, it impacts many papers that come after it. The paper aren't committing fraud, there the victim of the first guy.

So I could commit frauds, and after 10 year it could impact 100 papers.
So retraction is a very poor way to determine this.

Re:nope (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751683)

Indeed. I'm beginning to suspect these claims of widespread fraud have more to do with some pretty bizarre metrics on the part of those making the claim. It makes great headlines, but I think there's something rather fishy about it.

Re:nope (3, Interesting)

sphealey (2855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751795)

= = = Indeed. I'm beginning to suspect these claims of widespread fraud have more to do with some pretty bizarre metrics on the part of those making the claim. It makes great headlines, but I think there's something rather fishy about it. = = =

Lot of pushback on the so-called "fraud epidemic" on the academic science blogs. The emerging concensus is that the campaign is part of a softening-up process for anti-climate science actions.

sPh

Re:nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751895)

Fraud epidemic denial. Skepticism is good. In this case. Got it.

Re:nope (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752343)

Do you think that retractions in journals equates to fraud?

Re:nope (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752325)

I suspect an investigation into journalistic fraud would be far more fruitful. But I tend to agree with you, only because only those miserable fuckers at the Heartland Institute would spread around a lie like "retraction == fraud".

Re:nope (3, Interesting)

WhatAreYouDoingHere (2458602) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753185)

I think this study itself may perhaps be an example of the scientific fraud that they are describing.

Is that irony?

Re:nope (4, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752231)

retractions is a bad measurement.

You do have to consider other explanations, e.g. maybe the internet makes it easier for scientists to get their hands on sufficient information to detect fraud, or maybe even journals have become more responsible about retracting articles one they're shown to be bad.

Orthogonal lines of evidence would indeed be useful for understanding what is going on.

Re:nope (2)

bigdavex (155746) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752417)

retractions is a bad measurement.

Good point. Contradictory religions have a low rate of retractions. This doesn't mean they're all reliable.

how does that work? (1)

pigwiggle (882643) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752819)

I don't see how that works. When I publish some work, it's a collection of things I've done. Now maybe I discuss other peoples work in that context, and maybe draw some bad conclusions because of that, but that doesn't merit a retraction. Not at all. That is what eratta are for. Now, if a separate study is based predominantly on another's fraudulent work, wouldn't the researchers necessarily discover the original work was fraudulent as a mater of course? I just don't see how one fraudulent work would result in any other retractions - let alone one hundred. Maybe your field or the way you publish is different than mine. Clue me in.

Evolution (0)

Sam36 (1065410) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751623)

Evolution is a lie that has lined the pockets of many.

Re:Evolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751877)

Like those pesky vaccinations that kept you from dying before you turn 1.

Yeah, ok.

of course (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751661)

I've been saying thisfor years about Al Gore

Re:of course (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751695)

Who isn't a scientist and doesn't publish in journals, so has nothing to retract from them. You might as well say "I've been saying this for years about Ron Jeremy".

Re:of course (1, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751823)

You might as well say "I've been saying this for years about Ron Jeremy".

I'll have you know that Ron Jeremy has done breakthrough work in the field of Combinatorics.

Specifically, a paper published in the Journal of the American Mathematical Society titled An Application of the Pigeon Hole Principle in Double-Penetration Scenes.

Plausible...a trend that is self amplifying (5, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751681)

The more scientists who commit fraud and outcompete honest scientists for funding, the higher the bar becomes for the honest scientists. With dwindling tenure positions (and far more scientists competing for those positions), in order to be considered for tenure you have to meet very high productivity standards : a large number of peer reviewed papers in high-impact journals.

Well, real research takes time, money, and if it's good research, it will FAIL most of the time. It HAS to fail...to find something truly new you have to leave the bounds of existing knowledge, and most solutions anyone attempts are going to fail. The only way to guarantee an experiment will succeed is to :

            1. Research something you really already know the answer to. Hence the popularity of further research on the dangers of smoking. Throw a dart at a picture of a human body, check if someone else has researched it, if not, check. You will "discover" that cigarette smoke is quite harmful to or increases the prevalence of . This kind of research is not fraud, per say, but is really boring to high impact journals SO
            2. Discover something marginal with real research, then use photoshop and obscure statistical methods to make it look like you have a real discovery. Make outlandish claims about the prospect of your discovery revolutionizing everything.

And so on. The problem is, there ARE real discoveries made, every now and then, that would be huge IF large sums of money were spent to develop the REAL advances. But, if you have 10 fakers for every legitimate discovery, and you try to fund them all equally, most of the money gets wasted and so we live in a society without effective treatments for cancer, without a cost effective way to reach low earth orbits, without any of the other things that technology theoretically could make possible.

Re:Plausible...a trend that is self amplifying (5, Interesting)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752129)

Discover something marginal with real research, then use photoshop and obscure statistical methods to make it look like you have a real discovery. Make outlandish claims about the prospect of your discovery revolutionizing everything.

This is so true, particularly in small or relatively new fields, and particularly in the "softer" sciences. I took a course a few years back concerning a relatively small subfield of cognitive studies (an area which intersects with another obscure discipline), and the instructor assigned a half dozen papers to read each week, and class members would present a summary.

Basically, the instructor ended up using the primary literature of the field to show us how not to do good scientific research. About 90% of the time someone would point out a major "significant" correlation, the instructor would ask: but how many correlations did they try? Sometimes, there would be dozens and dozens of potential correlations checked in the article, and the one or two that actually worked would be touted as of "major significance."

Except when you try that many things, chances are something's going to correlate with something else. If you set your threshold at 95% confidence (common in soft science experiments where you don't have enough funding to get a lot of subjects), you'll get a correlation from random data about 1 out of 20 times. If you do dozens of correlations, you'll always find something.

But that wasn't the worst of it. The experiments were often poorly designed, because as an interdisciplinary subfield, most of the researchers didn't actually understand both areas that well. But the ambiguous manipulation of data then was generally used to justify the most absurd claims in the discussion section -- sweeping generalizations about how these findings might revolutionize our understanding of how the brain works or some other incredibly broad statement (usually false on its face, because the experiment was almost always so badly designed that it couldn't even say anything about the tiny subfield itself).

And then -- the worst part. Future articles would propagate the absurd sweeping conclusions from the discussions sections as if they were fact. A decade later, many of these claims had become "accepted knowledge" in the field.

I'd say about 75% of the articles we looked at -- and almost all of them were frequently cited and published in the central journals of the field -- were guilty of some sort of extreme bias in experiment design, data manipulation, or grossly exaggerated conclusions.

I know these things are far less frequent in the "hard" sciences, but the things I took away from this course were (1) how to read scientific articles carefully, and (2) there's a lot of crap being published out there that is barely "scientific."

Re:Plausible...a trend that is self amplifying (3, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752465)

Agreed. However, it's all about "survival of the fittest". The current system favours the least work (since doing less means you can write more, and writing more means a higher citation score, which in turn means more funding), the work least likely to fail (negative results don't get published) and the work least likely to contradict prior work (repeat studies also don't get published).

In order for quality science to survive, it HAS to be the fittest for purpose, which means we've got to change the purpose so that the above three flaws are selected against and not for.

Money and science (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751691)

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
--Upton Sinclair

Money and science are an uneasy mix at the best of times, and it's downright poisonous when there are concerted, well-funded efforts to undermine science on multiple fronts.

Numbers are blown out of proportion (2, Insightful)

gotfork (1395155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751717)

So there's 196 papers retracted since 2001? That's far less than the number of papers published in my subfield (condensed matter physics) each day. It's simply easier to find the tiny fraction that do cheat now that everything is more readily available.

Re:Numbers are blown out of proportion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751957)

There are over 70,000 condensed matter physics articles published each year? How does shit like this get +5?

Re:Numbers are blown out of proportion (3, Informative)

ilguido (1704434) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751989)

So there's 196 papers retracted since 2001?

What? They put a nice graph [nytimes.com] to make it clear even to condensed matter physicists. There are 742 retracted papers in ten years (2000-2009), in the PubMed database and they increased from 3 in 2000 to 180 in 2009. 196 were fraudulent papers, 235 included some mistakes (they can't tell if those were intentional or not) and 311 were retracted for other reasons (including: those poor guys that based their work on prior forged papers).

Better data detection? (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752383)

It's also possible that it's not that the amount of fraud has increased, its that we've gotten a lot better at catching it.

asia is real big on tech the test and cheating (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751737)

asia is real big on tech the test and cheating aka (copying others) / doing solo work as group.

But this is what you get when it's all about your test score and not about knowing what the test covers.

Now we need to have a LOT more classes based on real work with maybe even no test / finale or a finale that useing more a real work setting.

Also more tech / vol schools so college can take the load off and people can go to classes where they learn real skills and not loads of theory.

College for all just drags college down and most jobs should need some post high school learning but not just college and not 4 years of it. Even 2 years of pure classroom is pushing it as well.

Re:asia is real big on tech the test and cheating (4, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751939)

asia is real big on tech the test and cheating

Since NCLB linked money to performance on tests, US school districts have become big fans of cheating.

Re:asia is real big on tech the test and cheating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752911)

The problem is that in many cases... the cheating is still an improvement over what they were doing before...

Retraction != Fraud (5, Insightful)

yesterdaystomorrow (1766850) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751775)

In my experience as a scientist, what has increased is the pressure to publish quickly. So, people publish results that haven't been checked as much as they perhaps should be. But this is not fraud, and perhaps it's even healthy. Better to get crazy results out there than bury them in notebooks: sometimes they turn out to be major discoveries.

Re:Retraction != Fraud (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752309)

Better to get crazy results out there than bury them in notebooks: sometimes they turn out to be major discoveries.

That is true. However, if the results aren't firm, it is dishonest to present them as a major discovery. Lots of people are looking to make their results sound much more significant than they are to secure more grants or even to try to a hit in the media. The pressure isn't just to publish quickly, but also to publish ostentatiously. This leads to crazy conclusions and discussion sections that have little relationship to a reasonable interpretation of the significance of the data.

The greater problem (in my view) isn't outright fraud or even incompetence in results that brings about a retraction -- it's gross exaggeration of the significance of results. (Most of the time, this won't even lead to a retraction.) Those unreliable "conclusions" often influence how future research is done, what is assumed knowledge in the field, etc.

Re:Retraction != Fraud (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752643)

Where do you draw the line between fraud and negligence?

The fish rots from the head down... (3, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751779)

When the most corrupt people in America include so many of our most powerful politicians, corporate CEOs, and Wall Street barons it is unreasonable to expect any facet of American society to remain unaffected. The only and only thing you can be sure will "trickle-down" is corruption as the system has been rigged by the corrupt to ensure that it is corruption that pays the big bucks in America.

Decent validation (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751793)

Has anyone thought of good ways of combating this? Is it possible to have every study "peer reviewed" by a completely independent, impartial party. And by that, I don't just mean the checking the paper itself, but overseeing the ENTIRE experiment from start to finish including the production of the data so that it can't be skewed.

We'll need double the amount of people, but in the end, science could grow 10x faster.

Re:Decent validation (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751969)

Also, double the money.

The question becomes, if we invest double the money and double the number of people, should we invest it in checking results or in expanding into more directions?

Re:Decent validation (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752229)

Checking surely? Even if someone thinks their own motives are genuine, sometimes they can fool themselves.

We go the extra mile with the double blind test gold standard, yet the factor of scientific fraud and deceit is perhaps an even greater issue. I think even having 2 people (unrelated) watching over each experiment from each scientist would be of great benefit to everybody in the end.

As someone else said, an inaccurate paper can affect all the papers which come to rely on that as a source, multiplying the 'bug' in a deadly way.

Re:Decent validation (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752385)

Is it possible to have every study "peer reviewed" by a completely independent, impartial party. And by that, I don't just mean the checking the paper itself, but overseeing the ENTIRE experiment from start to finish including the production of the data so that it can't be skewed.

The "impartial" party would need to be made scientists of the same area of research to have the know-how to oversee the experiment, at which point it becomes "you cover my ass and I cover yours".

Re:Decent validation (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752585)

Yes, but maybe we could engineer the industry so that the checking scientist has nothing to gain or lose by hiding anything. One step towards that outcome is by ensuring they can't check each other's work at any point (only one sided).

At least three different research departments would be needed:
A checks B
B checks C
C checks A

Would that work? I'm just throwing ideas around, but someone's gotta try. If that too becomes a circle-jerk, then maybe we could try this:

A checks D
B checks E
C checks F
(where A/B/C can't publish any papers of their own, and are paid a fixed amount).

There's got to be something we can do, to at least mitigate the problem.

Re:Decent validation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752845)

I think there is quite a bit of confusion among nonscientists about what peer review means. Really there are two parts: the formal Peer Review which is a well defined process before publication, and more general "peer review", which includes happens post publication, and where for the most part the process you're describing happens.

The purpose of Peer Review is the most basic filter - to make sure the work is interesting, complete, and coherently presented. It is not to make sure the data is 100% completely correct and reproducible. This is taken care of after publication, by groups who want to take the next step.

In order to build off someone else's results directly, the *first* step is always to reproduce them. This is less because you find them suspect, but to make sure that you understand what was done and are proceeding correctly. It has the added benefit of catching cases where results are fraudulent or otherwise invalid.

If they wish to build off that work indirectly, they will have to show that their results using a different method or setup are consistent with yours. If it isn't that means that someone is wrong, and the problem gets increased attention until it is resolved.

So basically if your work is interesting, people will have to reproduce or otherwise validate your results in order to do their own research. If nobody does this, it's because your work probably wasn't very interesting.

If you want to include validation as part of the formal process, you incur several penalties. First of all, it will be more than double the amount of resources - usually Peer Review involves 2 or 3 referees. Second, reproducing an experiment from scratch is usually not trivial. Especially for cutting edge research, in can take months to years to ramp up and learn how to perform an experiment correctly; there is considerable skill involved. If a lab already has all the expertise, not to mention the equipment, that usually means they are competitors, which represents a pretty serious conflict of interest. Speaking of which, once somebody peer reviews your work in this way, they will most certainly become your competitors, as you have now waited for them to reach your level of sophistication and know how. In addition, they will have had access to your results far before everyone else.

The result is that work will take vastly longer to be released, there are now many perverse incentives added to the review process, and afterward, if a researcher wants to do similar research, they still have to do their own ramp up and validation. The cost will be much greater, and overall science proceeds much slower. You are probably, though not guaranteed, to catch bad research this way, but the much much larger volume of legitimate research will be unnecessarily bogged down.

WORLDCOMP anyone? (1)

dotbot (2030980) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751805)

You may want to start with http://sites.google.com/site/worlddump1/ [google.com] and generally search for 'WORLDCOMP'. At least some people have been taking a scientific approach to address potential fraud...

College for all / Sports teams (football baseball) (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751809)

College for all / Sports teams (football and baseball)

football and baseball players at least at some schools leads to cheating or them getting free passing at least at some schools. Now there should be some kind of minor league for baseball and football and players should not be forced to go classes it should be open to them but say some one who is real good at sports but not so much at learning should not have to take a full load of classes and vocational should be open to them as well. Why can't you be on the football team and being taking a vocational class load as well?

Re:College for all / Sports teams (football baseba (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752065)

because we want kids to try. The football team may seem like a path, but for the vast, vast majority of them it will go no where.

If a child is in high school an displaying football, and is under 6 feet, the parents shouldn't be relying on a foot ball future.

Since kids a re lazy, and ignorance is a low energy state, we have to set goals for them.

A reliable way to punish cheater numerically? (1)

cribera (2560179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751839)

By making a list a cheating points, and build a ranking of discredited scientists? Productivity points earned by being published in peer reviewd journals, would easily be lost by being published on the cheater's list. Would this be possible? If not, why?

Re:A reliable way to punish cheater numerically? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752079)

You could do something like that, but it would be redundant. As it is, if someone is shown to be doing fraudulent work they generally lose their position immediately and are effectively blacklisted from further academic work by virtue of having been fired for fraud. It doesn't matter how high up they are; I know of a local university that canned a dept chair for fraud and he is no longer in scientific research.

The tragedy though is he had some people working in his lab who were not involved in the fraud and they lost their careers by association with him.

Time to pulish real science (-1, Troll)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751863)

Just stop calling medicine, psychology, sociology and economics sciences, just stop publishing them, and stop funding them. The avalanche of bullshit will suddenly stop.

Re:Time to pulish real science (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751991)

Why isn't medicine science? Testing of cures is pretty scientific.
Why isn't psychology science? Just because its subject of research is the mind doesn't mean it's not scientific.

Re:Time to pulish real science (1)

Brian Feldman (350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752255)

Psychology isn't a proper science because it went off the deep end in the 20th century. Little work is ever done to reexamine the basics unlike, say, physics.

Re:Time to pulish real science (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752347)

Some of medicine is pretty good, but a lot is based on judgement and seat of the pants decisions - more like an engineering discipline.

not necessarily fraud (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39751883)

Perhaps the journals just don't do enough due-diligence anymore? The rush to publish in a world with 24-hour news and the internet...

Alternative suggestion. (1)

gstrickler (920733) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751919)

Fraud isn't science, and I don't trust any study that suggests increasing it. I suggest a decrease in fraud.

Fraud is not the only cause of retraction (4, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39751933)

Even good studies can have aberrant results that start with promising findings and end in retraction. The fact that retractions are up is not inherently indicative of more fraud, it could just as well be indicative of more pressure and more thorough peer review.

Re:Fraud is not the only cause of retraction (1)

sensei moreh (868829) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752221)

it could just as well be indicative of more pressure and more thorough peer review.

Peer review is supposed to happen before the article gets published.

Re:Fraud is not the only cause of retraction (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752477)

Usually, only about two peers review the article before it gets published.

Once the article is published, that means that thousands of peers are able to review it.

Studies? What studies? (2)

Brandano (1192819) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752023)

How am I supposed to trust the results of these studies anyway?

This Week's Conservative Nonsense on Slashdot, By (2, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752131)

... Soulskill. Thank you. I hadn't been reading slashdot very closely this week and was wondering if I was going to miss out on the blatant conservative pandering that is a regular feature of slashdot's front page. Not to let me down, soulskill comes through.

Thank you, I guess. And yes, I know I will be moderated straight down to hell for this. But you can't say I'm not right on the matter.

Re:This Week's Conservative Nonsense on Slashdot, (1)

Brian Feldman (350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752267)

I can say that you're wrong. Do you even know what "conservative" means?

Re:This Week's Conservative Nonsense on Slashdot, (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752571)

I'll answer that for him!
A conservative is a middle-aged white male strawman who hates Science, thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old, believes in every major religion, murders at least 5 black people a day, gets to vote 100 times in each election, is richer than Scrooge McDuck, has an IQ equal to their geographical latitude, and is secretly gay. This demographic composes 50% of the population of America.

Re:This Week's Conservative Nonsense on Slashdot, (0)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752795)

> Do you even know what "conservative" means?

Of course he does. It means anyone who doesn't share each and every one of his standard-issue "liberal" opinions. In other words, it means exactly the same as "liberal" does to a "conservative".

Re:This Week's Conservative Nonsense on Slashdot, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39753013)

Whatever he hates. Just like how "liberal" is whatever a republican hates.

About time someone admits to it. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752139)

Now maybe climate "scientists" can shut up and stop bilking the people of billions of dollars annually on junk proof that always turns out to be wrong.

And contender for the #1 scientific fraud is.. (0)

Paracelcus (151056) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752143)

String theory!

The crazy are starting to look more sane. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752249)

It's looking like those crazy conspiracy theorists that claim corporate scientists are less than honest are correct. While those that defend such scientists ("but they're scientists they have to be honest") are looking more like religious nuts that refuse to see the truth regarding their idols. As the litigious environment in many western nations demonstrates, a degree doesn't make a person decent. Whether the degree is in law or in a science.

Increase in fraud or... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752269)

...increase in transparency? I suspect that there was at least as much of this sort of stuff decades ago but most of it was handled behind closed doors.

nonsense. i payed good money for these results (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752289)

and i will be damned if some band of meddling kids and their ridiculous dog will foil my plans!

internet "no IP" generation becoming scientists (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752391)

I've always wondered if 50% or more cheat on tests and papers in college, how does that fall to zero by PhD? Well I guess it does not.

Asymptotic rate (1)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752455)

So I made projections of when the number of retractions would equal the number of articles, but I found an error in my data set.

I had to retract it.

And of course denialists use globalwarming tag (4, Insightful)

Ranger (1783) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752503)

on this story. Asshats. Seriously? How many of those retracted papers dealt with the studies relating to climate change?

asshats vs stupes and crooks (-1)

harvey the nerd (582806) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752583)

Don't have to retract. Just issue multiple small changes with more wiggle room. e.g replace global warming with, say, climate change.

Re:asshats vs stupes and crooks (2)

zz5555 (998945) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753017)

When someone says something like "e.g replace global warming with, say, climate change", I can never tell if they're making a lame attempt at humor or are just tremendously ignorant. Global warming and climate change came into use at about the same time (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/climate_by_any_other_name.html) and they're respective meanings have never changed: global warming remains a subset of climate change. Given how widely this is known, you must remain willfully ignorant to not be aware of that. I always take comments like yours to mean "I don't care about the damn facts, they must be wrong". But I'm sure yours was just a lame attempt at humor, right? ;)

Re:And of course denialists use globalwarming tag (-1, Flamebait)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752811)

And some other asshat has to drag out the term "denialist". Asshat.

information about information and leverage (4, Interesting)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752511)

It might be interesting to think about the ways that increases in scientific fraud parallels the recent financial industry meltdown that resulted from the mortgage industry mess.

In the mortgage industry back in the old-old days, when you wanted to borrow money, you took your information (w2, bank account statements, etc,) down to the local bank which analyzed your finances and issued you a loan based on thier "gut" feeling on your credit worthiness. This was found to be a very non-scaleable, often discriminatory system, however the risk was localized therefore immediate feedback was available (banks that issued too many bad loans failed).

Then the industry evolved. Credit reporting agencies and credit scores were created to reduce discrimination, and automate decision processes and help quantify risk, and packaging was created to securitize loans which effectively aggregated and anonymized both borrowers and banks and attempted to present an abstract risk profile to folks investing in debt. The risk/return profile of this investment created a high demand for more securitized loans, creating a scarcity. What happens when demand exceeds supply? Either the price goes up (the yield of the debt investment goes down when the price goes up), or some risk takers will attempt to increase the supply by substituting marginal quality goods (loans that aren't well vetted). Then when others see their success with marginal quality goods, even the regular suppliers take the plunge and drop their quality to maintain their market share. Large coalitions enter the field and start to game the system. The lack of information available to the investors due to anonymization and aggregation amd increased leverage (firms started using derivatives and CDOs to invest in mortages) set us up for the financial industry fall. Then the cards all fell down.

Historically, scientific publishing when you wanted to get your paper published, you sent a pre-print to a journal and they attemped to referee the paper based on the "gut" feeling of their reviewers. This was fairly unscalable and often discriminatory system, but the risk of a poor quality paper was localized to the journal (basically journals that published too many bad papers would lose credibility).

We are in the midst of an evolution in scientific publishing. Now there are many mroe researchers and many more journals. Many journals don't have the staff to do a good job a vetting the papers, and the specialization, cost and expense of many research fields make peer-review "santity" checking across different research groups difficult. Ironically, as we have more information about science, we have less information about the quality of that information. Since published results attract scarce research dollars, the cost of doing good research that results in published papers go up (reducing the ROI on research dollars), or some risk takers will attempt to attract scarce research dollars with sub-quality work... and so on...

Let's hope that large coalitions don't enter to game the system, nor research grants are anonymized from author and institution as researchers move around and institutions do joint projects, nor that large research projects leverage questionable earlier research w/o information or verification or we may be building a similar house of cards with scientific research literature. Isn't scientific literature supposed to all be about leverage (standing on the shoulders of giants)? Aren't certain publication too-big-to-fail? Aren't large research coalitions monopolizing areas of grant money in certain fields and effectively owning the available peer-review resources? Maybe we've already set the table and just don't know it yet.

Some food for thought...

Fortunately... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752523)

AGW research hasn't been impacted.

Want a fix? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39752669)

More state funding. If you want your research to be taken seriously, use accredited universities and established, or at least untarnished private firms. And fund properly. If your quote is 2 million, sign a contract for 2, with a legitimate over-flow of 3 million. Maybe 50% is too high, but projects do run over budget and sloppy work gets done when cutting corners. Independent verification of costs should be a major consideration. No milking from the researchers end will be tolerated, or get scored bad. No underfunding by the grantor's end, or be blacklisted from major research firms. just like peer review, the financing should be brutally scrutinized and harsh punishment doled out. If you want to fund a project, expect to pay properly. If you want to get research money, expect to have your work analyzed and get kicked the f out if you dont pull your weight. Publishing papers look good until they are shown to be worthless.

Not surprised (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752861)

China is loaded with it due to lack of morals. And as we see more and more chinese occupying American universities, we will see more and more positions based on cheating. Kind of funny that China is destroying American academia by basing theirs on fraud and lies. And yet, we continue to allow it to happen. So sad.

This study is clearly a fraud. (2)

gtirloni (1531285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753211)

Nuff said.
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