Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Faulty Research, Fraud Attract Page One Attention in Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal today reported a sharp upturn in retractions of scientific studies and a trend in research fraud that one editor of an influential scientific journal called a "scar on the moral body of science."

The journal's page one piece was headlined, "Mistakes in Scientific Studies Surge."

The article documented instances in which hundreds of thousands of persons were treated on the basis of faulty research.

Reporter Gautam Naik wrote,
"Science is based on trust, and most researchers accept findings published in peer-reviewed journals. The studies spur others to embark on related avenues of research, so if one paper is later found to be tainted, an entire edifice of work comes into doubt. Millions of dollars' worth of private and government funding may go to waste, and, in the case of medical science, patients can be put at risk."
The Journal piece has implications for the California stem cell agency, which ballyhoos the number of papers its grant recipients publish -- some 600 or so from $1.3 billion in grants and loans. The agency also has established critical bench marks for performance that must be verified on some big-ticket grants if state money is to continue to flow to recipients. And CIRM grants are awarded on the basis of a peer review process.

Naik wrote,
"Since 2001, while the number of papers published in research journals has risen 44%, the number retracted has leapt more than 15-fold, data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by Thomson Reuters reveal.

"Just 22 retraction notices appeared in 2001, but 139 in 2006 and 339 last year. Through seven months of this year, there have been 210, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science, an index of 11,600 peer-reviewed journals world-wide."
The article said that retractions related to fraud increased more than sevenfold between 2004 and 2009, according to an analysis in the Journal of Medical Ethics, a finding also supported by another researcher.
Naik wrote,
"Why the backpedaling on more and more scientific research? Some scientific journals argue that the increase could indicate the journals have become better at detecting errors. They point to how software has made it easier to uncover plagiarism.

"Others claim to find the cause in a more competitive landscape, both for the growing numbers of working scientific researchers who want to publish to advance their careers, and for research journals themselves.

"'The stakes are so high,' said the Lancet's editor, Richard Horton. 'A single paper in Lancet and you get your chair and you get your money. It's your passport to success.'"
Naik continued, "The apparent rise in scientific fraud, said Dr. Horton 'is a scar on the moral body of science.'"

By about 9 a.m. PDT, the article had attracted more than 200 comments on the Journal's web site. Some readers minimized the problem. Another reader said that to be a credible scientst,
"One must jump (through) many hoops in conforming to proper authorities."
Another commented about problems created by agenda-driven results. Another criticized the peer review process as simply an inexpensive way for scientific journals to fill their pages. Reader Daniel Viel said, "Bottom line: this is big business. A tremendous amount of money involved every time a study 'pushes' drugs." Sphere: Related Content

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