Thirteen percent of UK-based scientists have witnessed the intentional fabrication of their colleagues’ data, according to the results of a new survey. In addition, six percent of respondents said that they were aware of unreported research misconduct at their institutions.
Published in the January issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) (1), the findings imply that more than one in 10 UK scientists have witnessed an event where data was fabricated. While the results seem alarmingly high, there remains no agreement on how to measure unreported data fabrication and research misconduct.
But the problem isn’t isolated to the UK research community. In the article, study author Aniket Tavare, clinical fellow at the Department of Health and the BMJ group, points out that high-profile cases in the US, Canada, Sweden, Norway, and Poland have highlighted the need for increased research integrity oversight. A recent example of such cases is the investigation of US researcher Dipak Das from the University of Connecticut who has been accused of fabricating parts of 27 papers, including data on the cardiovascular benefits of red wine.
Furthermore, Turrens pointed out that in South Korea and other countries that have a strong research community without a high command of the English language, research supervisors commonly instruct their staff to copy the findings of a paper with similar results. From their perspective, it is both easier and more beneficial to the scientific community to simply copy the work of an English-speaking researcher who did the same work months or years before.
In the UK, the lack of a British research integrity governing body has allowed a culture of misconduct to exist, according to Tavare. While the UK has a few organizations focused on research integrity, such as the UK Research Integrity Office, these groups have merely an advisory role and lack the funding needed to properly investigate cases of misconduct. In the US and other countries, integrity offices have the power to investigate and dole out punishments, including excluding convicted researchers from federal funding.
At a conference in London last month, the BMJ fully presented its findings to leaders in the research community. In response, the attendees said that Britain had to act to institute some type of system to prevent research misconduct.
“It’s the $10 million question. If we knew how to prevent it, it would have stopped years ago. There are too many problems that range from abuse of power to desperation. They get caught sooner or later and careers are destroyed, but it still happens,” said Turrens.
- Tavare, A. 2012. Scientific misconduct is worryingly prevalent in the UK, shows BMJ survey. BMJ 344(January).