Big jump observed in scientific research fraud

Study: Fraud growing in scientific research papers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fraud in scientific research, while still rare, is growing at a troubling pace, a new study finds.

A review of retractions in medical and biological peer-reviewed journals finds the percentage of studies withdrawn because of fraud or suspected fraud has jumped substantially since the mid-1970s. In 1976, there were fewer than 10 fraud retractions for every 1 million studies published, compared with 96 retractions per million in 2007.

The study authors aren’t quite sure why this is happening. But they and outside experts point to pressure to hit it big in science, both for funding and attention, and to what seems to be a subtle increase in deception in overall society that science may simply be mirroring.

Note the bold. I was lambasted for saying essentially the same thing on PBS Newshour.

I wonder if Stephan Lewandowsky’s “moon landing denier conspiracy theory” paper will find itself in the fraud category now that Steve McIntyre has exposed the statistically shoddy sleight of hand:

McIntyre on Lewandowsky’s Fake Correlation

Steve McIntyre takes Lewandowsky’s statistical screed to task and writes:

Lewandowsky’s most recent blog post really makes one wonder about the qualifications at the University of West Anglia Western Australia.

Lewandowsky commenced his post as follows:

The science of statistics is all about differentiating signal from noise. This exercise is far from trivial: Although there is enough computing power in today’s laptops to churn out very sophisticated analyses, it is easily overlooked that data analysis is also a cognitive activity.

Numerical skills alone are often insufficient to understand a data set—indeed, number-crunching ability that’s unaccompanied by informed judgment can often do more harm than good.

This fact frequently becomes apparent in the climate arena, where the ability to use pivot tables in Excel or to do a simple linear regressions is often over-interpreted as deep statistical competence.


I mostly agree with this part of Lewandowsky’s comment, though I would not characterize statistics as merely “differentiating signal from noise”. In respect to his comment about regarding the ability to do a linear regression as deep competence, I presume that he was thinking here of his cousin institute, the University of East Anglia (UEA), where, in a Climategate email, Phil Jones was baffled as to how to calculate a linear trend on his own – with or without Excel. At Phil Jones’ UEA, someone who could carry out a linear regression must have seemed like a deity. Perhaps the situation is similar at Lewandowsky’s UWA. However, this is obviously not the case at Climate Audit, where many readers are accomplished and professional statisticians.

Actually, I’d be inclined to take Lewandowsky’s comment even further – adding that the ability to insert data into canned factor analysis or SEM algorithms (without understanding the mathematics of the underlying programs) is often “over-interpreted as deep statistical competence” – here Lewandowsky should look in the mirror.

Lewandowsky continued:

Two related problems and misconceptions appear to be pervasive: first, blog analysts have failed to differentiate between signal and noise, and second, no one who has toyed with our data has thus far exhibited any knowledge of the crucial notion of a latent construct or latent variable.

In today’s post, I’m going to comment on Lewandowsky’s first claim, while disputing his second claim. (Principal components, a frequent topic at this blog, are a form of latent variable analysis. Factor analysis is somewhat different but related algorithm. Anyone familiar with principal components – as many CA readers are by now – can readily grasp the style of algorithm, though not necessarily sharing Lewandowsky’s apparent reification.)

In respect to “signal vs noise”, Lewandowsky continued:

We use the item in our title, viz. that NASA faked the moon landing, for illustration. Several commentators have argued that the title was misleading because if one only considers level X of climate “skepticism” and level Y of moon endorsement, then there were none or only very few data points in that cell in the Excel spreadsheet.


But that is drilling into the noise and ignoring the signal.

The signal turns out to be there and it is quite unambiguous: computing a Pearson correlation across all data points between the moon-landing item and HIV denial reveals a correlation of -.25. Likewise, for lung cancer, the correlation is -.23. Both are highly significant at p < .0000…0001 (the exact value is 10 -16, which is another way of saying that the probability of those correlations arising by chance is infinitesimally small).

These paragraphs are about as wrongheaded as anything you’ll ever read.

Read the rest here at Lewandowsky’s Fake Correlation

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October 4, 2012 11:53 am

Final paragraph in the linked article:

Casadevall said his work is about science trying to clean its own house. And because it’s about fraud, he said he did one extra thing with his study: He sent reviewers not just a summary of their work, but all the data, “so they can check on us.”

Ed Forbes
October 4, 2012 11:57 am

“..The study authors aren’t quite sure why this is happening…”
It may just be that they are easier to spot now due to the Internet, which will increase the trend outside of reality.

Gunga Din
October 4, 2012 12:09 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fraud in scientific research, while still rare, is growing at a troubling pace, a new study finds.
A review of retractions in medical and biological peer-reviewed journals finds the percentage of studies withdrawn because of fraud or suspected fraud has jumped substantially since the mid-1970s. In 1976, there were fewer than 10 fraud retractions for every 1 million studies published, compared with 96 retractions per million in 2007.
The study authors aren’t quite sure why this is happening. But they and outside experts point to pressure to hit it big in science, both for funding and attention, and to what seems to be a subtle increase in deception in overall society that science may simply be mirroring.

Have Hansen or Mann retracted any of their papers?

October 4, 2012 12:20 pm

A million studies published in 2007?! I never would have suspected that it was such a huge number. No wonder there’s so much competition for funding. I wonder how many of those are really quality work worthy of publishing? If a lot of them are like the majority of the medical studies I hear about (this or that statistically associated with an increase in disease xyz) then it’s probably a lot of make work. Sounds like science has become an industry. An increase in fraud under those conditions wouldn’t be a surprise.

October 4, 2012 12:25 pm

Causation for increase in scientific fraud should be looked for in the ideologies that promote adding biased and arbitrarily subjective socialized qualities/ inputs onto unbiased objective scientific methods.
Look at the PNS ideology as a possible candidate for the causation of socialized and subjective scientific research by scientists with socio-political subjective value judgments that give rise to the reduced ethical performance of scientists.

October 4, 2012 12:41 pm

It’s liberal indoctrination, I mean education, and their new post normal science combined with science for hire (grant money), greed, ego and a belief that activism is what scientists are supposed to do.

October 4, 2012 1:01 pm

A man can get lung cancer without smoking ever. So smoking is not the only way to get it. I know many whom has smoked all lifespan from chidhood, without getting it. So is it true or false that: Smoking causes lung cancer?
Lewandowsky has lot of stupid questions. IQ probably 90?

October 4, 2012 1:12 pm

Of greater concern to me is the amount of sheer rubbish that makes it through peer review and gets published. In one experiment I read about, the experimenter had apparently applied 6MW of power to a 1lb piece of steak for a minute in an attempt to sterilise the cut surfaces. Certainly he would have sterilised the entire piece of meat if so much power had actually been applied, but no one would have been interested in eating the remnants. This error would have been picked up if s/he done some basics, such as monitoring the current and voltage flowing during the actual experiment, or if any one associated with the work understood even basic electrical engineering. Needless to say, the authors were no longer responding to comments or questions relating to the paper, but it hadn’t been withdrawn……

October 4, 2012 1:13 pm

We’ve been saying it all along. Think we’ll see a fix in our lifetimes..?

lowercase fred
October 4, 2012 1:20 pm

Follow the money.

October 4, 2012 1:23 pm

“…and to what seems to be a subtle increase in deception in overall society that science may simply be mirroring.”
It’s always easier to blame society instead of the person you see in the mirror.

October 4, 2012 1:25 pm

Could it be that the observed trend is due, at least in part, to advances in the ability to detect fraud? Maybe what this study means is that scientific research is becoming more transparent, and fraud is accordingly more difficult to get away with. After all, now that data is stored digitally, and we have the internet, it’s much easiest for the likes of Steve McIntyre to get their hands on it.

October 4, 2012 1:26 pm

It’s pretty impotant to clarify the difference between “fraud” and incompetence or a disagreement about methodology or results. The term “fraud” applies only to the wilful (malicious) falsification of data or results to obtain a desirable end. It is wrong to ascribe to malice that which can be explained through incompetance, or through political disagreement.
I won’t deny there’s fraud in scientific publishing, or that it may be on the increase. I’m saying one needs to be very careful about what one is claiming is fraudulent. Always keep to the higher ground.

October 4, 2012 1:28 pm

Anyone else see the irony here? Study finds increasing fraud by studies?

October 4, 2012 1:28 pm

I must say that trying to debate the issues at the blog used by L. et al became increasingly difficult as the moderator started virtually random snips of content citing inflammatory comments.

October 4, 2012 1:34 pm

Some other interesting quotes from the article, in addition to the one noted by Gary:

Casadevall said that even if society as a whole has become more deceptive, “I used to think that science was on a different plane. But I think science is like everybody else and that we are susceptible to the same pressures.”
In science, he said, “there’s a disproportionate reward system” so if a researcher is published in certain prominent journals they are more likely to get jobs and funding, so the temptations increase.
“Bigger money makes for bigger reasons for fraud,” said New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan. “More fame, more potential for profit… Some of the cheating and fraud is not too dissimilar to the cheating and fraud we’ve seen in banking.”

October 4, 2012 1:44 pm

My theory is that the number of committed frauds in science is directly proportional the amount of money spent on climate science.

October 4, 2012 1:55 pm

Fraud in scientific research, while still rare, is growing at a troubling pace, a new study finds.
So…. itz another hockey stick?
Darn things are creeping into science from every direction!

October 4, 2012 2:30 pm

There is the possibility that scientific fraud is like bad weather.
When you have better access to the phenomena, you just notice it more often.
With little to no electronic access to scientific papers in 1976, it was incumbent on possible reviews of the studies, beyond the “peer review.” to actually go an buy the journals.

Kevin Kilty
October 4, 2012 3:20 pm

This study shows that journal article retractions are rare but growing at an alarming rate. Possibly fraud is a constant.

Paul Martin
October 4, 2012 3:30 pm

The “retractions” problem was discussed on this afternoon’s “Material World” on BBC Radio 4. I believe the following link will work worldwide (TV programmes are limited to the UK only, but most radio programmes don’t have that restriction.)

This week Material World looks into what happens when published research is wrong, or worse fraudulent? When a published peer reviewed article is subsequently found to have something wrong with it, journals may send out a “retraction notice”. But do these notices tell the whole story? Research out this week suggests that up to two thirds of retracted papers are due to scientific misconduct, rather than simple error…

October 4, 2012 3:53 pm

Steve McIntyre’s quotation of Lewandowsky and Oberauer is interesting in another way. It seeks to separate “scientific statistics” from Excel pivot tables. Their narrow definition of statistics being “all about differentiating signal from noise” should be compared to a more standard definition like :-

Statistics is the study of how to collect, organize, analyze, and interpret numerical information from data.

According to Lewandowsky only “scientists” can divine the truth by scientific statistics beyond the reach of everyone else. Those who use the low level Excel analysis cannot see that truth, despite all their clever analysis. As the main critic of the Lewandowsky paper who made extensive use of pivot table, I now show in my latest posting that my pivot tables highlighted some essential elements totally absent from the paper. For instance, the very small number of skeptic responses or the very small percentage of responses supporting the non-climate conspiracy theories. I also suggest that publication of this analysis would alter the media perception of the paper.
Finally, I suggest that low level statistics are a way of asking searching questions, for scientists, reviewers of scientific papers and the lay public.

October 4, 2012 5:02 pm

Yes Fred, follow the money.

October 4, 2012 5:20 pm

Only 96/million up til 2007? Obviously they need to look at climate papers a bit closer to the present. Where do I apply for a grant for this?

October 4, 2012 5:56 pm

The study authors aren’t quite sure why this is happening. But they and outside experts point to pressure to hit it big in science, both for funding and attention, and to what seems to be a subtle increase in deception in overall society that science may simply be mirroring.

Let me help out…………..funding?
Here is a warning from the past about possible ‘future’ scams and rent seekers.

Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation – January 17, 1961
“……..The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite…….”

How did he know this was going to happen? What I want to know is when is the CAGW scam going to end?

Brian H
October 4, 2012 6:01 pm

Ed Forbes says:
October 4, 2012 at 11:57 am
“..The study authors aren’t quite sure why this is happening…”
It may just be that they are easier to spot now due to the Internet, which will increase the trend outside of reality.

Yes, the apparent trend may be exaggerated … but mostly because so much fraud went previously undetected. I suggest reading “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science“, and as many of the source materials it references as you have stomach for.

October 4, 2012 6:36 pm

“..The study authors aren’t quite sure why this is happening…”

I really don’t know why scientific fraud occurs. 😉
Is it the money?

Four big international companies, including the oil giant Exxon Mobil, said yesterday that they would give Stanford University $225 million over 10 years for research on ways to meet growing energy needs without worsening global warming.
Exxon Mobil, whose pledge of $100 million makes it the biggest of the four contributors,…..

Is it the fame?

“The Nobel Peace Prize 2007 was awarded jointly to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change” ”

I have absolutely no idea why scientific fraud and scam artists proliferate.

October 4, 2012 6:59 pm

And we still have no idea why the public is losing trust in the pronouncements of cash,kudos,and agenda driven science..none..really..not one. /Fe

October 4, 2012 7:34 pm

Maybe they learned “publication bias” from Pharma/FDA:
Actually this is probably pretty widespread and the above bill should be broadened to apply across all scientific disciplines and also to federal agencies including NASA/NOAA. To give an example, the FDA/NIH has a policy of refusing to provide funds/support for research where an individual (unassociated with a large Pharma company) wants to profit from ground breaking discovery, where the medical solution is in the public domain, where there may be a major impact on medical infrastructure or where the solution is inexpensive and will not result in large corporate rewards.Two examples follow : (see bottom @ Medical Applications and should state “rarely used”)
At least one Linus Pauling past study was rigged by the NIH:
Now much of this knowledge has been around for many years and just imagine what could have been or could be if properly funded and researched or if in the case of Extracellular matrix, just put into practice. However no one important, including politicians or the media has enough interest, brains or perhaps moxie to connect the dots, foresee the potential future from properly functioning Federal Agencies that are supposed to exist for public benefit and then do something about it. Nixon’s “Cancer War” may have been within reach decades ago without Pharma influence in government. There is some justice in that many of those in ignorance or complicity eventually wind up in the same sinking boat as the rest of the public.

Paul Westhaver
October 4, 2012 8:59 pm

Money and Religion and Politics
Science used to be a tool. It was a course in late elementary school. It was the area of inquiry that attracted many of our great thinkers. You know many of them, I hope.
Scientific methods and undertakings used to imply disciplined, arduous, and honest vocation for those who pursued them. Those were the days. Then came the likes of Bill Nye the Science guy who, in a misguided effort to introduce the material world to the young in an entertaining way, turned science into a circus.
Science was tweaked to satisfy ratings and Bills ego….. well…monetary interests.
Not that Bill was the only culprit, but he and the other circus clowns like Mann and Jones weren’t satisfied with doing good science, there had to be showmanship, that would have made PT Barnum proud. The showmanship was for money and to satisfy the empty egos, who otherwise would have lived anonymous lives.
Now ad a dash of the Earth Religion, to replace other religions long discarded, and now you have a toxic mix corrosive to the essentials of good science. Propelled by a belief in their Earth-Saving self righteous behavior, seduced by the luster of money, and the intoxicating haze of fame people who may otherwise plod along with their lab work, now proselytize their green beliefs as hypothesis, their grants as substitute for positive test results, and the publications as gilding for their egos rather than critique.
Oh we lost science long ago. Science has deteriorated to a punch line from an atheist or a magical word to engender authority by the utterer… like Abracadabra or Open Sesame.
Imagine science’s father, Roger Bacon, a 13 century monk (Opus Majus) trying to use reason to describe to new emerging field of optics with the limitations of an ecclesiastical vocabulary. Words like lens, opacity, translucent, simply did not exist. Bacon had to use words like orb, grace, and sin as scientific variables.
We’ve come full circle.
Now instead of a 13th century monk struggling to communicate the new concept of science trapped in religious language, we have scientists treating their field like a religion, and using scientific language to advance politics and belief.
What a tragedy.
What an affront to the past 500 years of hard work and dedication. It is destroying one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
This the problem I have with AGW advocasy. It defiles science and diminishes reason to gutter politics. It was inevitable that fraud would poison the vocation of science. Truth is no longer the objective. The objective of science has become money, fame and the Green religion.

October 4, 2012 9:43 pm

When they say that fraud is “still rare”, I guess they mean the kind of crass fraud that depends on misleading experimental design, cooked results and fudged analysis. But I’m afraid that a more subtle form of fraud is now endemic in scientific institutions. When the basic assumptions and definitions of a subject are corrupted, when certain lines of research are subsidized and others are actively discouraged, even honest individual scientists are going to be innocently supporting a fraudulent agenda. The global warming hoax is just one instance.

October 5, 2012 6:34 am

The charm of the ‘latent variable analysis.’ A bunch of non-mathematician types in the 1970s figured out how to conduct these latent variable models. A mythology sprang up that these models could show you ‘causality.’ I don’t know where this idea came from, but I suspect it relates to the term ‘causal models.’ GIGO.
A factor analysis will give you factors.
Everything in a factor analysis is in terms relative to the rest of the data in the data set. One factor will be the strongest, one will be the next strongest, and so on. This has nothing to do with how obvious or powerful any of the zero-order relations are. You can run any weakly measured garbage and conclude, ‘a three-factor model’ as if you had discovered the skeleton underliying whatever concept you wanted to vault to legitimacy – anti-science denialism syndrome, etc.
I had thought the phase of fashionable over-use of factor analyses and SEMs had come and gone, but maybe I am wrong.

Henry Clark
October 5, 2012 10:14 am

The actual fraud rate is easily many thousands per million, so the figure of 10 versus 96 retractions per million is in itself meaningless. Without more data, going from 10 to 96 retractions per million may or may not correspond to any more fraud at all (not talking about climatology — which went drastically downhill when actual scientists were replaced by environmentalist activists — but talking about other fields such as medical research).
In the hotbed of fraud and dishonesty, climatology, basically nobody ever retracts anything. Fraud isn’t surprising. What is surprising is when such is actually admitted and retracted.
A large number of papers in climatology are dishonest ludicrous BS, but just cloaking in formal language and having an academic writing style suffices to get dumb people to worship and auto-trust them Random examples include the paper recently mentioned here claiming the Roman Warm Period was due to human emissions at the time (not even remotely the right order of magnitude), the paper Svalgaard pushes about pretending solar variation has nil effect by resorting to claiming coincidence after coincidence after coincidence with volcanoes of mismatched magnitudes and timing in transparent bias, the 97.4% consensus paper with its 2 trick questions (if temperatures rose since the LIA and if UHI or any other effect of humans exists), and just about anything by Mann or Hansen among others.

October 5, 2012 11:13 am

Scientific fraud? Unbelievable. Don’t they know about Peer Review?

October 5, 2012 3:16 pm

I’m hoping there’s lots of scientific fraud.

October 6, 2012 3:58 am

Scientific fraud is generally not faking data or making up an experiment, it is tweaking the model so that it shows what you want, it is changes at the fringes. It is an editor being nicer to a paper that agrees with his worldview. This is still the best paper on the topic:

Richard deSousa
October 11, 2012 3:09 pm

I’d like to know all those statistics presented by the EPA regarding air quality have been vetted to insure they aren’t lying through their teeth.

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