13% of academics admit knowledge of data falsification: BMJ

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Data fabrication is known of by 13% of UK researchers surveyed in a BMJ poll
Data fabrication is known of by 13% of UK researchers surveyed in a BMJ poll
Just days after the nutrition science world was rocked by allegations that a famed veteran resveratrol researcher fabricated data in 26 articles over seven years, a British Medical Journal survey reveals the practice is disturbingly widespread.

The survey of 2700 doctors and scientists found one in seven (13%) had, witnessedcolleagues intentionally altering or fabricating data during theirresearch or for the purposes of publication”.

That manipulation included, “inappropriately adjusting, excluding, altering, or fabricating data”.

162 respondents (6%) said they were aware of possible misconduct within their own institution that had not been investigated sufficiently.

Deserve better

“UK science and medicine deserve better. Doing nothing is not an option,”​ said Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ ​editor in chief.

“While our survey can’t provide a true estimate of how much research misconduct there is in the UK, it does show that there is a substantial number of cases and that UK institutions are failing to investigate adequately, if at all.”

“The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out.”

Committee on Public Ethics (COPE) chair, Dr Elizabeth Wager, added: “This survey chimes with our experience from COPE where we see many cases of institutions not cooperating with journals and failing to investigate research misconduct properly.”

BMJ ​noted the survey mirrored one conducted in 2001 that found similar levels of fabrication awareness.

Dr Godlee and Dr Wager issued a joint BMJ ​editorial recently that stated: “There are enough known or emerging cases to​suggest that the UK’s apparent shortage of publicly investigated​examples has more to do with a closed, competitive, and fearful​academic culture than with Britain’s researchers being uniquely​honest.”

Resveratrol research scandal

Dr Dipak Das, a longtime researcher of the red wine antioxidant, resveratrol, was accused this month by his former employer, the University of Connecticut, of fabricating data on at least 145 occasions, in 26 research papers published in 11 journals over seven years.

The University had taken part in a three-year investigation before going public this month with its allegations that Dr Das enagaged in systematic alteration of a type of data called Western Blot images which plot data - usually by Photoshop manipulation on his computer.

Those allegations are refuted on the grounds of a racist conspiracy by Dr Das, but aside from a statement from his lawyer, the Dr has remained largely silent on the affair as he recovers from a heart complaint in India.

He did however send a brief statement​ to NutraIngredients from his sick bed, and statements he sent to the UConn in response to the investigation the summer of 2010 have surfaced. There​ Dr Das asserts the same racist defence and conspiracy to defraud him by envious academic rivals.

Professor Lindsay Brown,​professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Southern Queensland, was at a Free Radical Society conference in Kolcatta, India, where Dr Das spoke two weeks ago on January 13 about Western Blots before being struck down by a stroke and hospitalised.

"This is the end of his career. He will be remembered for this scientific fraud and for little else," ​Professor Brown told The Australian ​newspaper.

Commenting on the website Retraction Watch​, someone known as Mallika observed:I am a grad student at UCHC. I did know a couple of people in Dr Das’s lab and interacted with them outside the lab. I was always surprised at how rapidly they seemed to produce data and got tons of publications where we struggle to get our experiments and papers out.”

Source:

British Medical Journal

2012;344:d8357 doi:10.1136/bmj.d8357

‘Scientific misconduct is worryingly prevalent in the UK, shows BMJ survey’

Author: Aniket Tavare

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3 comments

Industry vs. Academics

Posted by Greta Kelley,

I have worked in both settings and at the end of the day the fact is that an academic's whole livelihood is dependent on publishing, the next grant and tenure. In industry a study that doesn't pan out gets filed away and we move on to the next project. It doesn't impact the ability for promotion or job security.

Is this really that shocking?

Report abuse

And you think "industry" is biased?

Posted by Ted Okerson,

This article highlights that there is the potential for bias in all research. It's time to quit stereotyping industry or academics. Bottom line: they're all people, and some are honest, others are not. Simple as that.

Report abuse

This is hurtful to Science in general

Posted by Jon Yaffe,

This issue is not confined to the researchers, but in cases extends to their host institutions; which let this continue even after becoming aware of it rather than have previously published work, and thus the institutional reputation and future funding, called into question.
The karmic consequence is that trust in science is abused, and subsequent public distrust of science becomes justifiable, even when not truly justified.
Bad and corrupt science all too easily is used by politicians and corporations who seek to ignore environmental and other vital issues in the interest of maintaining politics and business as usual.
The law of Karma states that ultimately we don't get away with a thing.

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