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Science fraud – Dishonesty and forgery in research

As scientists, we like to think that science is a bastion of virtue, untouched by science fraud.

The perception is that, other than junk science, science should be beyond reproach, unsullied by lies and propaganda. Results should always be regarded as valid and completely unbiased.

Human nature dictates that scientists are human and are always going to be prone to bias and error. Most such mistakes are subconscious, and a result of looking too hard for patterns that are not there.

Unfortunately, there are a number of more sinister cases, where scientists deliberately fabricated results, usually for personal fame. With the advent of corporate and politically funded research grants, poor results are becoming more dictated by policy than by scientific infallibility.

Some of the More Common Types of Science Fraud

There are many types of science fraud, from minor manipulation of results or incorrect causal connections to full-blown fabrication of results and plagiarism of the work of others.

There have been cases of researchers stealing the work of their students to obtain all of the credit and kudos.

There is a well-documented rumor of a scientific referee delaying the work of a rival, to ensure that he received the acclaim and a Nobel award. These allegations are often difficult to prove, as institutions often cover them up and try to sweep science fraud under the carpet.

Citations are one area of the scientific process that is coming under increased pressure, especially with the easy availability of information on the internet.

A citation, or reference, is supposed to credit past research that influenced the current research. Now, a bibliography and list of works cited often becomes a list to impress, readers assuming that the longer the list, the better the paper.

For example, most academics have had a tutor assign an essay and instructed them to use ‘at least twenty references.’ Most students then use 3 or 4 sources and throw in the other 16 to fill the quota, a problem in every academic area, not just science.

It is better to use a few reliable primary sources than rely upon secondary sources, all often saying the same thing. Supervisors and referees are becoming stricter about quality rather than quantity, so attitudes should slowly change.

Conversely, not citing the research of others, and stealing ideas, is another common science fraud. It is very easy to ‘spin’ the words of others, and pass it off as the researcher’s own.

Most scientific papers, especially during the literature review, use other sources, but they need to be properly cited.

A related type of fraud is where supervisors and funding bodies, who had little direct involvement in the work, often appear in the title whereas lab assistants, typists and translators are missed out. To try to evade this practice, it is common to include an acknowledgements page, to avoid cluttering up the title too much.

Reference

Martyn Shuttleworth (Jun 24, 2009). Science Fraud. Retrieved Feb 27, 2022 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/science-fraud