Press and Pop Culture

Fraud, Plagiarism, and Errors in Science

Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications” in the latest issue of the PNAS has been attracting considerable attention, at and at and at Science and at Scientific American and at and even at the NY Times. As the title of the article suggests, misconduct of various sorts—fraud, plagiarism, errors, and duplicate publication—contributed to the retraction of 2,047 articles since 1977. Of these, fraud of some sort accounts for the greatest number of retractions.

“Number of retracted articles for specific causes by year of retraction.” (Source: F. Fang et al., “Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications,” p. 2)

The prevalence of fraud has prompted various explanations: the corrupting influence of impact factors and the publish-or-perish culture, the few bad seeds who happen to go into science, to a celebration of the self-correcting nature of science that identifies and roots out such cases of fraud. Common in these explanations is an effort to save “science” from reproach. It’s worth reading through the comments to see the rabid attacks on and defenses of this thing called “science.”

Why are we surprised that humans—call them scientists if you like—have screwed up, have plagiarized, and have lied about it?

[Cross posted at PACHS.]