UPDATE: The link to this study on mBio is now live:
Ferric C. Fang, Joan W. Bennett and Arturo Casadevall
Later today the open access online journal mBio ® will publish an analysis of scientific misconduct - written Joan W. Bennett, Ferric C. Fang, and Arturo Casadevall - based on data from the Office of Research Integrity.
Scientific misconduct - which includes fabrication, falsification or plagiarism – has been on the rise over the past decade.
In a presentation made last March (see Dysfunctional Science) before a committee of the National Academy of Sciences, journal editors Casadevall and Fang warned that number of retraction notices for scientific journals has increased more than 10-fold over the last decade, while the number of journals articles published has only increased by 44%.
A pair of related editorials, penned by Casadevall and Fang, appeared at the same time in the journal Infection and Immunity.
It's not hard to see that men are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than women, or that crime rates are many times higher among men, but this tendency to break the rules also extends to male scientists, according to a study to be published on January 22 in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. An analysis of data from the Office of Research Integrity reveals that men commit research misconduct more often than their female peers, a gender disparity that is most pronounced among senior scientists.
"Not only are men committing more research misconduct," says Joan W. Bennett of Rutgers University, a co-author on the study. "Senior men are most likely to do so."
In the study Bennett teamed with Ferric C. Fang of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and Arturo Casadevall of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, and scrutinized data from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, an organization that investigates allegations of misconduct in research supported by the Department of Health and Human Services. "Misconduct" includes such infractions as fabrication, falsification or plagiarism.
They found that out of the 227 individuals sanctioned for committing scientific misconduct between 1994 and the present, 66% were male, a number that far outstrips their overall representation among researchers in the life sciences. And although men represent about 70% of faculty in the life sciences, 88% of faculty who committed misconduct were male.
If the fact that men are more likely to commit scientific misconduct is less than surprising, Casadevall says, what did surprise the authors is the fact that misconduct is not confined to inexperienced, early-career strivers.
"When you look at the numbers, you see that the problem of misconduct carries through the entire career of scientists," says Casadevall. Faculty (32%) and other research personnel (28%) represented a total of 60% of cases, whereas students (16%) and post-doctoral fellows (25%) were sanctioned in only 41% of cases.
The damage done to the public’s perception and trust of science due to misconduct and fraud is difficult to calculate, but overall the public’s opinion of science and scientists has taken quite a beating in recent years.
According to a recent UK poll (Public Attitudes To Science, May 2011):
While the majority of respondents (79%) believed science has, on the whole, made our lives easier . . . . astonishingly, just 54% believed that the benefits of science are greater than any harmful effect.
One only has to look at the deep divisions over climate change, evolution, vaccine safety, nuclear power, and genetically modified food crops to realize just how wide this rift between the public, and scientists, has become.
Every day the world becomes more dependant on technological solutions to solve our ever growing list of social, economic, and environmental problems.
The need for the public’s trust and confidence in the scientific process has never been greater.
If that trust is squandered through scientific fraud or misconduct, it isn’t just the scientific community that will suffer, but society as a whole.