Science Journals Rife With Error, Fraud

Retractions up 15-fold over past decade in 11,600 scientific publications
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 10, 2011 2:36 PM CDT
Science Journals Rife With Error, Fraud
An investigation of 11,600 peer-reviewed science journals has revealed a huge increase in the amount of mistakes and fraud in science.   (Shutterstock)

The number of retractions in scientific journals has surged 15-fold over the past decade, rising to 339 last year from 22 in 2001—far faster than the 44% increase in the number of articles published over the same period, reports the Wall Street Journal in an investigation of 11,600 peer-reviewed scientific journals. And with most science built upon the science of others, one paper's retraction can have a snowball effect, taking out dozens of subsequent papers. The Mayo Clinic alone lost a decade of research after data about using the immune system to fight cancer was discovered to have been faked.

Journal editors and other scientists are divided how much of this rise stems from better detection and how much from increased pressure to succeed. Basic errors accounted for 73.5% of the retractions, as opposed to 26.6% from outright fraud, but analysts note that cases of fraud seem to be growing much faster, going up sevenfold from 2004 to 2009 alone. There's even a blog dedicated to mistakes in scientific studies, called Retraction Watch. The rise of scientific fraud is "is a scar on the moral body of science," said the editor of one leading journal. (Read more scientific study stories.)

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