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Fabrication (science)

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Fabrication, in the context of scientific inquiry and academic research, refers to the act of intentionally falsifying research results, such as reported in a journal article. Fabrication is considered a form of scientific misconduct, and is regarded as highly unethical. In some jurisdictions, fabrication may be illegal.

The word falsifying used above should not be confused with the legitimate and essential activity of finding and sharing evidence that contradicts a hypothesis (see falsifiability) but is used in the sense of deliberately presenting known false information as true with the intent to deceive. Neither should the concept be applied to a scientist or a group of scientists deceiving themselves; this behaviour is sometimes called pathological science.

Examples of activities which constitute fabrication include:

  • Outright synthesis of experimental data; reporting experiments which were never conducted.
  • "Fudging", "massaging", or outright manufacture of experimental data.
  • Inappropriate, and statistically invalid, "culling" of experimental data, such as the intentional exclusion of experimental runs which contradict the hypothesis the scientist is trying to demonstrate, or excessive filtration of "noise" which suggests a correlation where none can be shown to exist.
  • Intentional portrayal of interdependent events as independent.
  • Ordering subordinates or research assistants to participate in any of the above.

In addition, some forms of (unintentional) academic incompetence or malpractice can be difficult to distinguish, upon examination, for intentional fabrication. Examples of this include the failure to account for measurement error, or the failure to adequately control experiments for the parameter(s) being measured.

Fabrication can also occur in the context of undergraduate or graduate studies, wherein a student fabricates a laboratory or homework assignment. Such cheating, when discovered, is usually handled within the institution, and does not become a scandal within the larger academic community (as cheating by students seldom has any academic signficance).

Consequences Edit

Fabrication is generally considered the most serious form of scientific misconduct that a scientist can engage in, and a finding that a scientist engaged in fabrication will often mean the end to his career as a researcher. Scientific misconduct is grounds for dismissal of tenured faculty, as well as for forfeiture of research grants. Given the tight-knit nature of many academic communities, and the high stakes involved, researchers who are found to have committed fabrication are often effectively (and permanently) blacklisted from the profession, with reputable research organizations and universities refusing to hire them; funding sources refusing to sponsor them or their work, and journals refusing to consider any of their articles for publication.

Fabricators may also have previously-earned academic credentials taken away. In 2004, Jan Hendrik Schön was stripped of his doctorate degree by the University of Konstanz after a committee formed by Bell Labs found him guilty of fabrication related to research done during his employment there. This action was undertaken even though Schön was not accused (in the matter in question) of any fabrication or other misconduct relating to his work which lead to or supported the degree--the doctorate was revoked, according to University officials, solely due to Schön behaving "unworthily" in the Bell Labs affair. [1]

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