More Retractions, Not Dishonesty

The surge in retractions may be the result of better detection tools and more vigilant journal editors, not an increase in ethical problems.

By | January 12, 2012

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, VMENKOV

While the rate of retractions has been rising in recent years, it may not mean more scientists are fudging the data. Some experts believe text comparison tools and other means for catching plagiarism or data fraud are being used more widely by journals, possibly leading to an increase in detection, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

The rate of retractions has exploded, from around 40 per year in the 1990s to 407 in 2011. But more journals routinely use software to catch plagiarism, which has greatly increased their ability to uncover misconduct. In addition, the average age of a retraction has increased from 5 months to 32 months from 2000 to 2009, according to The Chronicle. In other words, journals may are unearthing problems in older papers, so the number of new offenders may not be rising.

Editors may also have gotten wise to the problem and increased their vigilance, potentially making it harder to get away with plagiarism. The number of repeat offenders has dropped over time, possibly suggesting that it’s more difficult now to sneak through fudged data or duplicated text.

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Comments

Avatar of: Boo_Bottoms

Boo_Bottoms

Posts: 8

January 13, 2012

Typical deflection.... this is cultural. Scientist today are being educated to show the results they want, and not the truth. Look at global warming fiasco... billions spent on so called research, but only to those who support one side of the argument. These retractions are the end product from years of watching others lie their way to more grant money. It's a game now and the truth be damned.

Avatar of: Dr. Matt

Dr. Matt

Posts: 3

January 13, 2012

Please provide one shred of evidence that there is "science" and "data" that refutes global climate change.  Just because you hate the reality, it doesn't make you right.    The only "people" that believe it's a "fiasco" or those who hate the truth.  

Avatar of: sweet1heart

sweet1heart

Posts: 4

January 13, 2012

It would be easy to test this assertion by running the articles from the 1990's through the same software as the journals are using now to detect plagiarism. If it is better detection, then there should be many instances of undetected plagiarism from back in the day.  I suspect that both phenomena are occurring (better detection and more dishonest science).

Avatar of: mightythor

mightythor

Posts: 1457

January 13, 2012

I can't see how better detection methods would lead to an increase in retractions -- unless journals are applying these methods only after publication.  Pre-publication detection of misconduct would lead to a decrease in retractions, wouldn't it?

There are many reasons for the increase in retractions, including career pressure, poor mentoring of junior researchers in very large laboratories, multiauthor publications where no one author is responsible for all the data, and the criminalization of scientific error which leads authors to retract at the slightest hint of impropriety rather than face multiple rounds of investigation and potentially punitive sanctions.

Avatar of: George Garrity

George Garrity

Posts: 2

January 13, 2012

Sweet1Heart is right in the assumption that a simple retrospective analysis of articles from the past, that are now available in digital form, would be revealing. It would it provide a way of testing the assumption that the increased incidence of research misconduct that we are currently observing is due largely to better detection methods as opposed to a change in behavior over time. Such ah analysis might also reveal other major ethical lapses and distortions in the research record arising from undetected research misconduct in the past.  Of course, the opposite might also be true.

Whatever the case, it seems like a very worthwhile activity.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

Typical deflection.... this is cultural. Scientist today are being educated to show the results they want, and not the truth. Look at global warming fiasco... billions spent on so called research, but only to those who support one side of the argument. These retractions are the end product from years of watching others lie their way to more grant money. It's a game now and the truth be damned.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

Please provide one shred of evidence that there is "science" and "data" that refutes global climate change.  Just because you hate the reality, it doesn't make you right.    The only "people" that believe it's a "fiasco" or those who hate the truth.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

It would be easy to test this assertion by running the articles from the 1990's through the same software as the journals are using now to detect plagiarism. If it is better detection, then there should be many instances of undetected plagiarism from back in the day.  I suspect that both phenomena are occurring (better detection and more dishonest science).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

I can't see how better detection methods would lead to an increase in retractions -- unless journals are applying these methods only after publication.  Pre-publication detection of misconduct would lead to a decrease in retractions, wouldn't it?

There are many reasons for the increase in retractions, including career pressure, poor mentoring of junior researchers in very large laboratories, multiauthor publications where no one author is responsible for all the data, and the criminalization of scientific error which leads authors to retract at the slightest hint of impropriety rather than face multiple rounds of investigation and potentially punitive sanctions.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

Sweet1Heart is right in the assumption that a simple retrospective analysis of articles from the past, that are now available in digital form, would be revealing. It would it provide a way of testing the assumption that the increased incidence of research misconduct that we are currently observing is due largely to better detection methods as opposed to a change in behavior over time. Such ah analysis might also reveal other major ethical lapses and distortions in the research record arising from undetected research misconduct in the past.  Of course, the opposite might also be true.

Whatever the case, it seems like a very worthwhile activity.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

Typical deflection.... this is cultural. Scientist today are being educated to show the results they want, and not the truth. Look at global warming fiasco... billions spent on so called research, but only to those who support one side of the argument. These retractions are the end product from years of watching others lie their way to more grant money. It's a game now and the truth be damned.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

Please provide one shred of evidence that there is "science" and "data" that refutes global climate change.  Just because you hate the reality, it doesn't make you right.    The only "people" that believe it's a "fiasco" or those who hate the truth.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

It would be easy to test this assertion by running the articles from the 1990's through the same software as the journals are using now to detect plagiarism. If it is better detection, then there should be many instances of undetected plagiarism from back in the day.  I suspect that both phenomena are occurring (better detection and more dishonest science).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

I can't see how better detection methods would lead to an increase in retractions -- unless journals are applying these methods only after publication.  Pre-publication detection of misconduct would lead to a decrease in retractions, wouldn't it?

There are many reasons for the increase in retractions, including career pressure, poor mentoring of junior researchers in very large laboratories, multiauthor publications where no one author is responsible for all the data, and the criminalization of scientific error which leads authors to retract at the slightest hint of impropriety rather than face multiple rounds of investigation and potentially punitive sanctions.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 13, 2012

Sweet1Heart is right in the assumption that a simple retrospective analysis of articles from the past, that are now available in digital form, would be revealing. It would it provide a way of testing the assumption that the increased incidence of research misconduct that we are currently observing is due largely to better detection methods as opposed to a change in behavior over time. Such ah analysis might also reveal other major ethical lapses and distortions in the research record arising from undetected research misconduct in the past.  Of course, the opposite might also be true.

Whatever the case, it seems like a very worthwhile activity.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 14, 2012

I hear you saying scientist have always been this unethical but only now are they being caught. Thanks.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 14, 2012

I hear you saying scientist have always been this unethical but only now are they being caught. Thanks.

Avatar of: primativewriter

primativewriter

Posts: 22

January 14, 2012

I hear you saying scientist have always been this unethical but only now are they being caught. Thanks.

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