Feature Research Integrity

Managing research misconduct: is anyone getting it right?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d8212 (Published 29 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8212
  1. Aniket Tavare, clinical fellow
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. ATavare{at}bmj.com

Scientific misconduct can have far reaching consequences but is hard to detect. Aniket Tavare looks at the many different approaches to dealing with it

The dark side of scientific research continues to claim high profile casualties. Donald Poldermans, a prolific cardiovascular researcher with over 500 papers to his name, was recently sacked by Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam for conducting a study where he used fictitious data.1

It is difficult to know how common such cases are. A recent meta-analysis suggested that about 2% of scientists had “fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once,” and 14% were aware of colleagues who had done so.2 The number of papers retracted from the literature has increased exponentially over the past few years, to over 400 in 2011,3 with many withdrawals attributed to misconduct.4 Malcolm Green, former vice principal of the faculty of medicine at Imperial College London, comments: “It is highly likely that for every case of fraud that is detected there are a dozen or more cases that go undetected. While these might represent lesser degrees of misconduct, they are still important to science and ultimately patient care.” The mantra of “publish or perish” echoes through many academic departments, with career advancement, tenure, and peer recognition all depending on scientific output. Such rigid metrics of success can put pressure on researchers to act in a less than scrupulous manner.

Whose responsibility is it?

Governments recognise the importance of scientific progress to their economies and international standing, and many countries have outlined ethical codes of conduct they expect researchers to adhere to.5 Similarly, several consensus bodies have written best practice guidelines. These include the European Science Foundation’s code of conduct for research integrity6 and the Singapore statement,7 generated by the 51 counties that attended the second …

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