Black sheep in research bodies discrediting scientists

December 15th, 2008 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 15 (IANS) Black sheep in research establishments are discrediting the scientific community by fabricating or manipulating data. European research organisations agreed to work more closely to tackle the problem of fraud and other misconduct in science.

Fraud in science includes inventing data (fabrication), manipulating data to produce an unjustified result (falsification) or presenting the work of other researchers as one’s own (plagiarism).

There is little hard evidence of the extent of the problem but various estimates suggest that about one percent of researchers commit fraud, while as many as 10 percent to 50 percent engage in questionable practices.

Most of these are relatively minor, said John Marks, director of science and strategy at European Science Foundation (ESF), “but if people get away with it and if no one says anything about it, it might invite bigger issues of misconduct”.

He said that opinion polls showed that trust in scientists is still high “but that trust is easily lost by high profile cases of misconduct and that is why we are so concerned.”

A survey by ESF earlier identified 18 European countries that had put in place codes of conduct for good practice in research but varied greatly in how they dealt with suspected cases.

Many have set up research integrity offices to promote good practice and discourage misconduct, according to ESF release.

No European country has yet followed the lead of the US National Science Foundation which, along with other federal agencies, has statutory powers to investigate allegations of fraud including power to subpoena evidence.

Peggy Fischer of the NSF (National Science Foundation) Office of Inspector General, described how offenders can be required to take a course in scientific ethics or, in the most serious cases, banned from receiving any federal research funding for up to five years.

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