Science fraud is common and often ignored, report says

According to a report published in Nature, scientific fraud in academia is “surprisingly common” but is not often reported to university officials.

The survey of mainly biomedical students showed that about 9 percent had seen some kind of academic misconduct in the past three years; 37 percent of those breaches went unreported.

The authors surveyed 2,212 researchers and found 201 instances of possible academic misconduct over those three years. Among those, almost 60 percent were fabrication or falsification incidents, and 36 percent dealt with plagiarism.

The most guilty segments of academia? About a quarter of the incidents pointed the finger at postdoctoral fellows, though professors and senior scientists were right on their heels at about 22 percent.

Of course, the tricky question of whether a researcher should inform on their colleagues comes next. The easy answer is yes, but that does not take into account career-ending consequences that an accusation of misconduct can bring, as well as the damage done to friendships.

The reports authors, however, see things in a simpler light: “Fundamentally all explanations seem to share a common denominator — the failure to foster a culture of integrity” (981-82). They recommend clarifying for scientists how to report misconduct, protection for whistleblowers, more training for scientific mentors, and positive role modeling as ways to cut down on misconduct.

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