Forgery, fakery & fraud in science

The December edition of the Biochemist has several excellent articles about science and ethics.

Unfortunately, these articles are not freely available for download.

John Sulston (Manchester) discusses personal integrity, from plagiarism to straightforward falsification, collective integrity, i.e. self-policing of science through criticism, and institutional integrity, i.e. safeguarding the independence of scientists from the pressures of their institution or funders (one counter-example here), and concludes that “better management of competition in science, in order to limit the crude race for ever more (rather than better) output, is urgently needed.”

Walter Gratzer (London) presents historical examples of frauds from Newton’s manipulation of figures on precession to Schon’s retraction of eight papers in Science and seven in Nature.  He notes that “science remains the only human activity that is, in the end, self-correcting, for any new discovery of any consequence has to meet the implacable criterium of reproducibility” but warns that this self-correcting principle can break down: “in industrial research, there has been many dismal cases of suppression of unwelcome intelligence, and the persecution of those who seek to bring it into the open”.

David Vault (Australia) explains how the pressure to publish, combined with the availability of easy to use image-processing software “has produced a flood of scientific publications, but the quality has suffered”, and he gives some guidelines on how to sort the Good from the Bad (the product of falsification or fabrication) and the Ugly (science that is incompetent or over-interpreted).

The issue also has an article on plagiarism and an “innocent author’s guide to avoiding misconduct”; all well worth a read for scientists of all ranks and ages!

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