Behind Science Fraud

We reported here the other day about the latest fraudulent article in Science magazine, but don’t miss the op-ed about the broader problem of science fraud in today’s New York Times by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (who is one of the founders of RetractionWatch).

Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

Science fetishizes the published paper as the ultimate marker of individual productivity. And it doubles down on that bias with a concept called “impact factor” — how likely the studies in a given journal are to be referenced by subsequent articles. The more “downstream” citations, the theory goes, the more impactful the original article.

Except for this: Journals with higher impact factors retract papers more often than those with lower impact factors. It’s not clear why. It could be that these prominent periodicals have more, and more careful, readers, who notice mistakes. But there’s another explanation: Scientists view high-profile journals as the pinnacle of success — and they’ll cut corners, or worse, for a shot at glory.

And while those top journals like to say that their peer reviewers are the most authoritative experts around, they seem to keep missing critical flaws that readers pick up days or even hours after publication — perhaps because journals rush peer reviewers so that authors will want to publish their supposedly groundbreaking work with them. . .

Economists like to say there are no bad people, just bad incentives. The incentives to publish today are corrupting the scientific literature and the media that covers it. Until those incentives change, we’ll all get fooled again.