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Scientific misconduct is the violation of the standard codes of scholarly conduct and ethical behavior in professional scientific research. The main forms of scientific misconduct are:

  • fabrication--the publication of deliberately false or misleading research, often subdivided in:
    • fabrication--the actual making up of research data and (the intent of) publishing them
    • falsification--manipulation of research data and processes or omitting critical data or results
  • plagiarism--the act of taking credit (or attempting to take credit) for the work of another
  • the violation of ethical standards regarding human and animal experiments, such as the standard that a human subject of the experiment must give informed consent to the experiment.

In addition, some academics consider suppression--the failure to publish significant findings due to the results being adverse to the interests of the researcher or his/her sponsor(s)--to be a form of misconduct as well; this is discussed below.

In some cases, scientific misconduct may also constitute violations of the law, but not always. Being accused of the activities described in this article is a serious matter for a practicing scientist, with severe consequences should it be determined that a researcher intentionally or carelessly engaged in misconduct.

Three percent of the 3,475 research institutions that report to the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Research Integrity, indicate some form of scientific misconduct. (Source: Wired Magazine, March 2004)

The validity of the methods and results of scientific papers are often scrutinized in journal clubs. In this venue, members can decide amongst themselves with the help of peers if a scientific paper's ethical standards are met.

Motivation to commit scientific misconduct Edit

According to David Goodstein of Caltech, there are three main motivators for scientists to commit misconduct, which are briefly summarised here.

  • Career pressure

Science is still a very strongly career-driven discipline. Scientists depend on a good reputation to receive ongoing support and funding; and a good reputation relies largely on the publication of high-profile scientific papers. Hence, there is a strong imperative to "publish or perish". Clearly, this may motivate desperate (or fame-hungry) scientists to fabricate results.

  • "Knowing the right answer"

Even on the rare occasions when scientists do falsify data, they almost never do so with the active intent to introduce false information into the body of scientific knowledge. Rather, they intend to introduce a fact that they believe is true, without going to the trouble and difficulty of actually performing the experiments required.

  • "The ability to get away with it"

In most scientific fields, results are often difficult to reproduce accurately, being obscured by noise, artifacts and other extraneous data. That means that even if a scientist does falsify data, they can expect to get away with it - or at least claim innocence if their results conflict with others in the same field.

Cases of alleged scientific misconduct and related incidents Edit

Suppression/non-publication of data Edit

A related issue concerns the deliberate suppression, failure to publish, or selective release of the findings of scientific studies. Such cases may not be strictly definable as scientific misconduct as the deliberate falsification of results is not present. However, in such cases the intent may nevertheless be to deliberately deceive. Studies may be suppressed or remain unpublished because the findings are perceived to undermine the commercial, political or other interests of the sponsoring agent or because they fail to support the ideological goals of the researcher. Examples include the failure to publish studies if they demonstrate the harm of a new drug, or truthfully publishing the benefits of a treatment while omitting harmful side-effects.

This is distinguishable from other concepts such as bad science, junk science or pseudoscience where the criticism centres on the methodology or underlying assumptions. It may be possible in some cases to use statistical methods to show that the datasets offered in relation to a given field are incomplete. However this may simply reflect the existence of real-world restrictions on researchers without justifying more sinister conclusions.

Some cases go beyond the failure to publish complete reports of all findings with researchers knowingly making false claims based on falsified data. This falls clearly under the definition of scientific misconduct, even if the result was achieved by suppressing data. In the case of Raphael B. Stricker, M.D.[3], for instance, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity has found the removal of samples from a data set in order to reach a desired conclusion to be grounds for disbarment from funding.

Photo Manipulation Edit

In 2006, the Journal of Cell Biology gained publicity[4] for instituting tests to detect photo manipulation in papers that were being considered for publication. This was in response to the increased usage of programs by scientists such as Photoshop, which facilitate photo manipulation.

See also Edit

References Edit

  • William Broad & Nicholas Wade, Betrayers of the Truth. Oxford University Press, 1982
  • Brock K. Kilbourne and Maria T. Kilbourne, The Dark Side of Science, Proc. of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, AAAS, April 30, 1983.

External links Edit

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