Scientific fraud is blight that occurs in increasing prevalence in the research community. Fraudulent practices, such as faked survey results compromise the ability to rely on the result of research as a means to make policy, accurate diagnoses, and to further research into the chosen topic. Scientific fraud goes beyond faked data. Actions such as plagiarism, data manipulation, and suppression of data is a growing concern (Stix, 2013). The research will explore the problem of scientific fraud and will explore potential solutions to the problem. It will support the thesis that third part peer review is an important element in eliminating scientific fraud in the future.
Motivations for Fraud
A recent panel found that fraud is estimated to occur in approximately 2 percent of all research studies on a global basis (Stix, 2013). This percentage might appear to be low, but one cannot underestimate the potential damaging effects of such findings. When the results of the study will be applied to a larger population, then the outcome could be devastating. Public policy based on faulty research can result in consequences that have far-reaching results on society.
Medical research is one of the key areas of concern in terms of scientific fraud. Fraud in medical research can have significant negative outcomes for patients. Physicians rely on the most current research to make diagnoses and prescribe treatments for their patients. They must be able to trust the data that they receive to do their job properly. Scientific fraud in the medical sciences can mean prescribing medication that is either not effective or that has dangerous side effects. In the case of the former, prescribing an ineffective drug can be dangerous because a serious condition can become worse, as if it had not been treated at all. Dangerous side effects can cost lives and compromise the trust of the public in the medical community.
With so much at stake, one might wonder why someone would engage in fraudulent research practices. In the academic setting, fraud occurs as a result of placing one’s own interests above the responsibility to make a valuable contribution to the scientific community. Students are often under considerable pressure to complete a thesis and complete their academic careers. This pressure can make getting their research complete an attractive option, regardless of the costs.
The topic of scientific fraud in China has recently become a global area of concern, as many of the products resulting from fraudulent research ends up on the global marketplace (The Economist, 2013). Chinese scientists are rewarded for results. Chinese researchers are blamed for their research rankings. A corrupt system that looks the other way has been blamed for the rise in false research (The Economist, 2013). The promise of promotion and academic achievement is a key motivation for intentional scientific fraud.
In the medical field, the motivation is monetary. Researchers are rewarded financially for getting a product to market quickly. They will often receive residual income from sales of the pharmaceuticals that they produce. This is more than ample motivation to commit fraud. FDA monitoring helps to reduce fraud, particularly due to the falsification of data. However, other types of fraud are more difficult to detect.
The Grey Area
Not all scientific fraud is as blatant as data manipulation. Other fraud is a result of either intentional or unintentional omissions in the final study. When a researcher begins a thesis or nonacademic research study, they often develop an idea. The thesis or project is often the result of hard work and labor. The research can become emotionally attached to their idea. As research progresses, the data may not support their original idea. Everyone wants to be right, which can create a tendency to omit or ignore information that does not support the thesis. This can come in the form of failing to present contradictory information, basing conclusions of personal opinion, or discrediting certain data out of a “gut” feeling (The Economist, 2013). All of these actions compromise the integrity of the research. Sometimes these grey areas of fraud are unintentional, yet they have the same effect on the final product.
What Can Be Done?
Scientific fraud comes in many forms. People are tempted to commit fraud for many reasons. The underlying cause of any type of fraud is placing one’s personal interests and feelings above responsibility to the scientific community. Ultimately, fraud harms those who will be the recipient of the products, services, and policies developed from the research. In the case of the medical community, research fraud can have deadly results. Even when fraud is unintentional, the results are the same.
Fraud appears to be relatively rare when taken into consideration with the entire body of scientific research. However, this only takes into account incidences of admitted fraud; it is likely that the number of fraudulent research studies is much higher. The potential damaging effects of scientific fraud make every incidence a serious affair. Scientific fraud makes the need for closer third party review and oversight an important issue. The fact that research fraud ends up in publications points to a need for better review and stricter criteria for publication. Better oversight is the only way to reduce the occurrence of scientific fraud. Perhaps a different compensation system for medical research must be considered to eliminate financial incentives for fraudulent results. These methods are proactive, but there also needs to be increased enforcement and awareness of fraud too.
- The Economist. (2013, September 28). Looks good on paper. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/
- Stix, G. (2013, May 2). Spring (and Scientific Fraud) Is Busting Out All Over. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/