US more likely to fake research data?


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According to the Journal of Medical Ethics, United States researchers may be more likely to publish false data than those from other countries.

Researcher Grant Steen from Medical Communications Consultants searched PubMed, an online database of biological studies, for every paper that had been retracted from public record between 2000-2010. Overall, 788 papers were withdrawn from public record during this time period. Around 75% were retracted because of a serious error. The other quarter were withdrawn because the data was fabricated. 

US authors were responsible for most of the retracted papers (around a third - 260) and of the retracted papers a third had falsified data. This number is alarmingly high compared to other nations such as the UK, India, Japan, and China who each had at least 40 papers withdrawn. Asian nations came in second compared to the US in terms of the number of retractions based on fraud (responsible for 30% of the withdrawn papers, with one in four having fake data).
 

Majority of the authors who faked their data were "repeat offenders" who falsified more than one research paper. Papers with imaginary data were also more likely to have multiple authors (the average being six authors for repeat offender papers).

However, this finding does not lead to the conclusion that US researchers are more prone to produce fake work. The majority of papers published on PubMed are by US-affiliated researchers-- therefore, we might not be getting whole picture. It's possible that some paper produced from other countries did not make the PubMed publication. Or more simply- there may be more fraudulent US papers due to the sheer fact that significantly more US papers are published on PubMed.

If it is true that US researchers are more likely to publish papers with imaginary data- why are they more likely than researchers from any other country? In a publish or perish kind of nation scientists may be scrambling to acclaim the fame and prestige that goes along with producing groundbreaking work- as well as save their jobs.

What implications does false data have on the average American citizen?

One of the most famous fraud papers was Andrew Wakefield's 1998 report that the MMR vaccine was the cause of autism. According to the British Medical Journal, this paper was "an elaborate fraud."

Not only were the results that Wakefield found incorrect, there is reason to suggest that they were deliberately falsified. Thousands of parents with children of autism avoided vaccinating their children which led to disease outbreaks across the nation - even leading to death in some. Because of this study which was completely fake, children died from diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines! Even worse-- Wakefield falsified the data to make a profit from the fake study because he had been payrolled to create evidence against the vaccines.

In class we learned that the beginnings of discovering the harmful effects of smoking were based on imaginary data and loosely supported anecdotes without any real scientific research basis. If imaginary data is the weakest form of science (obviously less sound than anecdotes and observations) than why is it so frequently occurring, even in the 21st century?

2 Comments

Hey Nadine! Good post and very interesting topic. Just make your all the fonts are the same! It works best if you type it all in a document, change the font so it is all uniform, and then paste it in and add links.

Thanks for such a quick comment! After many failed attempts at re-pasting my document, I think I finally got it to work. For some reason, the website didn't like the font I used in Word (maybe it didn't recognize it) and only worked when I put it in a normal font like Arial.

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