Todd Reitzel is the AAPS director of publications.
A recent study revealed an unexpected result on the state of biomedical publishing: Most retractions stem from scientific misconduct. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reviewed 2,047 biomedical research articles indexed as retracted, as indicated in the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s PubMed index, and found that about two-thirds (67%) of them are the result of fraud, suspected fraud, duplicate publication, or plagiarism. The remainder of the retractions resulted from error (21%) or an undetermined cause. The study’s authors, two scientific researchers and a consultant in scientific communications, looked for the cause of retractions in sources other than the retractions themselves, such as the U.S. Office of Research Integrity.
The authors—Ferric C. Fang, R. Grant Steen, and Arturo Casadevall—found numerous instances of retractions ostensibly due to errors but actually due to scientific misconduct. They also established that most cases of retraction due to fraud originated in countries with longstanding research traditions, such as the United States, and that most cases of plagiarism and duplicate publication arose in countries without such traditions. While the number of articles retracted is a small percentage of all published articles, the authors note that the retraction rate is rising and that likely not all misconduct gets caught and results in a retraction.
The authors propose a number of reforms in scientific research, including the use of didactic checklists in scientific experimentation, improved training in probability and statistics, an enhanced focus on ethics, and the formation of a centralized database of scientific misconduct.
How prevalent is misconduct, related to publishing or otherwise, in the pharmaceutical sciences? What should the discipline do to prevent misconduct?