Two recent congressional investigations of “scientific fraud” (The Scientist, July 11, page 1) have rekindled a dispute about what it is, what causes it, and what to do about it. The current debate focuses narrowly on whether federal agencies will be required to develop and administer regulations, or whether universities can formulate and administer their own guidelines without external pressures.

The record seems to indicate that external regulation is needed, because universities are evidently quite far from practicing the ethics they preach at congressional hearings. Indeed, in case after case, the universities have consistently preferred cover-up to investigation. They have attacked the reputations of witnesses and whistle-blowers rather than admit that misconduct was committed.

But the current debate doesn’t probe deeply enough into the problem. Despite the protestations of universities, scientific fraud is not just a matter of individual acts perpetuated by a few misguided scientists. Instead, fraud and...

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