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How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research?

Is science misconduct an aberration or a common practice? Unintentional corruption of the factual record is commonplace, not so much as a deliberate attempt to engage in fraud but simply because that is accepted practice and procedure in a discipline.

In geology it is common practice to present the best or clearest example of a particular rock type, beddding characteristics, expression of faults and folds, etc. You don't present the average photographs or "the train wrecks" you present the best examples of your field work. Is this fraud? Not if you are a geologist, but some other scientists working in other disciplines not familiar with practice and procedure in your discipline.might brand that as fraud.

Here is some sobering data when it comes to what we expect in the coming years in science:

How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data

Daniele Fanelli

"To standardize outcomes, the number of respondents who recalled at least one incident of misconduct was calculated for each question, and the analysis was limited to behaviours that distort scientific knowledge: fabrication, falsification, “cooking” of data, etc.

A pooled weighted average of 1.97% (N = 7, 95%CI: 0.86–4.45) of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once –a serious form of misconduct by any standard– and up to 33.7% admitted other questionable research practices. In surveys asking about the behaviour of colleagues, admission rates were 14.12% (N = 12, 95% CI: 9.91–19.72) for falsification, and up to 72% for other questionable research practices. Meta-regression showed that self reports surveys, surveys using the words “falsification” or “fabrication” “fabrication”, and mailed surveys yielded lower percentages of misconduct. When these factors were controlled for, misconduct was reported more frequently by medical/pharmacological researchers than others.


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  • Dec 21 2012: I don't know any exact answer to that question - yet I thnk the problem starts at school and university.

    Case in point - I enrolled in an honours physics course at university. What was attractive to this program was that it has been completely revamped - since enrolment in Physics had dwindled to zero the previous year.

    In one Physics lab, the assignment was to do the classical measurement of e/m. It was standard lab equipment. People worked in teams. The first team could not come up with the "correct answer" using that apparatus. The prof assigned a second team and they couldn't get the "right answer" either -although they did get the same measurement as the first team.

    The prof then assigned both teams the problem of "why were they getting the wrong answer?". The first team couldn't explain it, but cam up with an amusing rewrite of all of physics to explain the answer they got. The second team noticed the filament was held taut in the apparatus by a spring at both ends. The current would pass through these springs (coils actuallY) and create an electromagnetic field that would affext the answers. Estimating the size of the coils and calulating and subtracting the effect of the coils from the answer gave you a pretty good number - close to the right answer at least.

    Now the $100 question. Decades of students used this apparatus and ALWAYS were able to generate "the correct answer" - but the apparatus was incapable of doing so. Whats going on? Decades of student learned to get the mark, they had to present the "right answer", even if they had to fudge the results.

    So methinks this is a learned behaviour.

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