Fraud in biomedical and life-science research papers has become a growing issue in recent years as more studies are retracted all the time. Speaking to the Associated Press (here’s the AP story), the lead study author Arturo Casadevall, a professor of microbiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York., said “Fraud in life sciences research is still minuscule and committed by only a few dozen scientific scofflaws. However, it causes big problems.” The study, a new review of peer-reviewed journals finds the percentage of studies withdrawn because of fraud or suspected fraud has zoomed. In 1976, there were fewer than 10 fraud retractions for every 1 million studies published, compared with 96 retractions per million in 2007.
The study reviewed 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed and noted as retracted as of May 3, 2012. They found that only 21.3 percent of retractions were attributed to errors. But 67.4 percent were due to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud at 43.4 percent; duplicate publication at 14.2 percent and plagiarism at 9.8 percent.
“Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic,” the authors conclude. Although they maintain the problem is still relatively small, they can only speculate about the reasons for the dramatic increase. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (here is the abstract).