How Common is Bad Behavior in Science?
A short summary of empirical research on the rate of research misconduct and other unacceptable behaviors in science as of July 2016.
This is a summary of recent empirical research on the rate of research misconduct and other unacceptable behaviors in science. This summary includes recent high-profile surveys, but is not comprehensive. Please note that the studies include much more information than is represented here. Please consult the references for more information.
Primarily falsification and fabrication
A. Mail survey of 3,247 (47% response rate) NIH-funded researchers who were asked to report on their own behaviors (Martinson et al. 2005)
1. Dropping data points based on a gut feeling: 15.3%
2. Falsifying or “cooking” research data: 3%
3. Plagiarism: 1.4%
B. Survey of 2,212 (51% response rate) NIH-funded researchers who were asked whether “they had observed or had direct evidence of researchers in their own department committing one or more incidents of suspected research misconduct over the past three academic years” (Titus et al. 2008)
4. 164 (7.4%) reported 201 incidents of misconduct over 3 years – 60% fabrication or falsification, 36% plagiarism only
5. A conservative estimate of 1.5% of the 155,000 NIH-supported researchers (in 2007) yields 2,325 cases of misconduct each year
6. About 24 cases of research misconduct are reported to the Office of Research Integrity each year (about 0.015% of researchers, or 1% of the estimated total)
C. Re-analysis of Titus et al. (Swazey 2008)
7. 300 cases/year (about 0.19% of researchers)
D. Meta-analysis of 18 surveys; excludes plagiarism (Fanelli 2009)
8. Self-reported fabrication or falsification: 1.06%
9. Observed fabrication or falsification: 12.34%
10. Self-reported QRP: up to 33.7%
11. Observed QRP: 72%
E. Mail survey of 1,703 (35% response rate) faculty members who were asked to report on their own behaviors (Martinson et al. 2009)
12. Fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism: 8.0%
How common is bad behavior in science? / Pimple 2
F. Falsification and fabrication summary, from least incidents to most
Source Incidents Rate
Reported to ORI (Titus et al. 2008) ~ 24/year ~ 0.01%/year
Swazey 2008 ~ 300/year ~ 0.19%/year
Titus et al. 2008 ~ 2,300/year ~ 1.5%/year
Martinson et al. 2005 ~ 90 3.0%
Martinson et al. 2009 ~ 136 8.0%
Two items on plagiarism
G. Computer analysis of more than 62,000 Medline abstracts over 12 years for evidence of plagiarism (Errami and Garner 2008)
13. 421 potential duplicates found and human-inspected
14. Duplicates with different authors: 0.04%
15. Duplicates with the same author: 1.35%
16. Approx. 117,500 of 8.7 million abstracts
H. Drop in plagiarism (Reich 2010)
17. “An analysis by Garner in the press at Urologic Oncology shows that while the total quantity of biomedical literature has risen steadily since 2000, cases of republication stopped rising after 2003 and fell sharply between 2006 and 2008 (see graph). ‘It actually does look like it’s getting better,’ says Garner. ‘People who would ordinarily step across the line are not doing it.’”
How common is bad behavior in science? / Pimple 3
All links below were verified September 3, 2017.
Errami, Mounir, and Harold Garner. 2008. “A tale of two citations.” Nature 451:397-399 (January 24). http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7177/full/451397a.html
Fanelli, Daniele. 2009. “How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data.” PLoS ONE 4(5):e5738.
Martinson, Brian C., Melissa S. Anderson, and Raymond de Vries. 2005. “Scientists behaving badly.” Nature 435:737-738 (June 9).
Martinson, Brian C., Lauren Crain, Melissa S. Anderson, and Raymond De Vries. 2009. “Institutions’ expectations for researchers’ self-funding, federal grant holding, and private industry involvement: Manifold drivers of self-interest and research behavior.” Academic Medicine 84(11):1491-1499 (November). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19858802
Pupovac, Vanja, and Daniele Fanelli. 2014. “Scientists admitting to plagiarism: A meta-analysis of surveys.” Science and Engineering Ethics. Published online October 29 2014. doi:10.1007/s11948-014-9600-6 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11948-014-9600-6
Reich, Eugenie Samuel. 2010. “Self-plagiarism case prompts calls for agencies to tighten rules.” Nature 468 (December 9):745. http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101208/full/468745a.html
Swazey, Judith P. 2008. “Integrity: How to measure breaches effectively.” Nature 454 (July 31):575. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v454/n7204/full/454575a.html
Titus, Sandra L., James A. Wells, and Lawrence J. Rhoades. 2008. “Repairing research integrity.” Nature 453:980-982 (June 19).
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