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« Annan loses climate bet to sceptic | Main | The academy wants no scrutiny »
Friday
Jan132012

Corruption in the academy

There is a must-read article in the Daily Mail about corruption in British universities. The British Medical Journal have conducted a survey of British academics:

'The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out.'

(H/T BlackBadged, on Twitter)

 

 

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Reader Comments (18)

I think this is the key quote:

Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ editor in chief, said: 'While our survey can't provide a true estimate of how much research misconduct there is in the UK, it does show that there is a substantial number of cases and that UK institutions are failing to investigate adequately, if at all.

Somebody needs to be asking questions centred around UK institutions failing to investigate adequately.

Jan 13, 2012 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

How about this highlighted by Anthony Watts in WUWT?

Researcher Who Studied Benefits Of Red Wine Falsified Data Says University

Original story here:
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/240222.php

Jan 13, 2012 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Yes - that single instance shows what happens when a (in this case a U.S.) institution does conduct a proper enquiry. Three years' of investigation. 145 cases of fabricated or false data. Grants worth a total of $890,000 having to be returned.

It seems that is just the tip of an iceberg if the BMJ survey is to be believed.

Jan 13, 2012 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

From the FT article

Ginny Barbour, a senior editor with the PLoS group of journals, said one-third of authors could not find the original data to back up figures in scientific papers when these were questioned.

It would be a useful exercise to get a copy of the questions used and use them to survey climate scientists.

Have you ever been concerned that researchers may be deliberately altering or fabricating data?

Have you ever been concerned that UK institutions are failing to investigate cases of misconduct adequately?

Have you seen any evidence of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or being threatened with the risk of having their contracts terminated when they spoke out?

I bet we could improve on the BMJ figures.

Jan 13, 2012 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

I can see there is a lot of limp-wristed naivete about this. Such institutional corruption is part and parcel of man's need to learn morality upon coming into this world. (The current arguments over whether US presidential candidate Mitt Romney's form of venture capitalism was in fact vulture capitalism instead, is another branch on the same theme. There are abiding differences in belief about what is wrong and what is right, and when institutions take the self-serving path against the right, all hell breaks loose upon the integrity of entire fields of endeavor, as has happened to science, since Darwin -- who was always an amateur, in my view -- was elevated to godhood.) I was subject to it, and a possible career blighted by it (I merely went off with a clean, unsullied will to discover truth, and made far, far, far greater discoveries than I would have within the system -- of course, I am as financially strapped as Socrates or any other ascetic acolyte of the higher wisdom of clear thought, unfettered by the reigning dogma).

Jan 13, 2012 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

If all experimental work was conducted to Good Laboratory Practice guidelines no one would lose data and fraud would be immeasurably more difficult to carry out and far easier to detect. I wonder why academics shy away from adopting GLP.

I can ask our archivist to bring me ALL the original data for any study conducted in my laboratory back to 1980 and the data will be produced within 10 mins. (The regulator can of course do the same, and randomly selects studies for examination at each of our regulat compliance audits)

Jan 13, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Arthur Dent:

All my work and that of my colleagues dating back to 1980 is archived (lifetime records) and can be inspected by the regulator at any time. All the work was checked and approved and is stored in two locations (the offices and a salt mine).

Jan 13, 2012 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

In an editorial, Dr Richard Lehman from Oxford University and the journal’s clinical epidemiology editor Dr Elizabeth Loder called for an end to the 'culture of haphazard publication and incomplete data disclosure'. They called for more robust regulation and full access to the raw trial data, not just what ends up being published.
They said that those who deliberately hide results 'have breached their ethical duty to trial participants'.

What's the betting that Professor Jones will read the above and say "Oh golly gosh, what a naughty boy I have been- I'd better go back and tidy up my datasets and then publish all the raw (unadjusted)station data".

Jan 13, 2012 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

I can't help feeling there is a "wind of change" blowing - and what we are seeing now is various institutions wanting to be able to say "of course, we had been aware of these problems for some while and have put in place new procedures to guard against it happening in future".

An optimistic note is that the original article says:

"it does show that there is a substantial number of cases and that UK institutions are failing to investigate adequately, if at all"

and not

there have been and "there are suggestions that UK institutions had been failing"

Jan 13, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

"one-third of authors could not find the original data to back up figures in scientific papers when these were questioned."

Heard that one before!

Interesting is also the comment that the universities wante the Research Integrity Office to "die a death", sort of echoes the push against FIO.

Bottom line message of academics to the taxpayer seems to be "pay and forget" .

Nik

Jan 13, 2012 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterNik

FT had a nice cartoon line yesterday on press regulation ~

"Please don't forget to try to self regulate"

Jan 13, 2012 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Interesting development last week which I missed:

Andrew Wakefield sues BMJ for claiming MMR study was fraudulent

Jan 13, 2012 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

From the BMJ itself:


One in seven UK based scientists or doctors has witnessed colleagues intentionally altering or fabricating data during their research or for the purposes of publication, found a survey of more than 2700 researchers conducted by the BMJ.

The survey, which was emailed to 9036 academics and clinicians who had submitted articlesto the BMJ or acted as peer reviewers for the journal (response rate 31%), found that 13% of these researchers admitted knowledge of colleagues “inappropriately adjusting, excluding, altering, or fabricating data” for the purpose of publication. Just over one in 20 (6%) said they were aware of cases of possible misconduct within their own institutions that remained insufficiently investigated.

The survey, which aimed to describe the extent of research fraud in the UK, was conducted in advance of a high level summit organised by the BMJ and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) on 12 January. The meeting bringstogether institutions, researchers, and funders to address the problem of research misconduct in the UK.

“UK science and medicine deserve better. Doing nothing is not an option,” said Fiona Godlee, BMJ editor in chief.

Dr Godlee added: “While our survey can’t provide a true estimate of how much research misconduct there is in the UK, it does show that there is a substantial number of cases and that UK institutions are failing to investigate adequately, if at all. The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out.”

This view is echoed by COPE Chair, Elizabeth Wager, who notes: “This survey chimes with our experience from COPE where we see many cases of institutions not cooperating with journals and failing to investigate research misconduct properly.” The meeting seeks to arrive at a consensus among members of the UK scientific establishment to both deal with the size of the problem and formulate possible solutions.

The results of the BMJ survey mirror those of a 2001 study conducted among newly appointed hospital consultants in Merseyside, which found about 10% had witnessed their peers altering or fabricating data for the purpose of publication, and nearly 6% admitted they had personally been involved in research fraud (J Med Ethics 2001;27:344-6).

The prevailing attitude that such instances are rare and anomalous is countered by Dr Godlee and Dr Wager in a recent BMJ editorial: “There are enough known or emerging cases to suggest that the UK’s apparent shortage of publicly investigated examples has more to do with a closed, competitive, and fearful academic culture than with Britain’s researchers being uniquely honest.”

Jan 13, 2012 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Jones

There is a relationship between this topic and the topic of the previous thread, on the Freedom of Information Act. Transparency makes corruption difficult. If the raw data is too extensive to include in published articles then it should be made available on a website where anyone can examine it.

Jan 13, 2012 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

What scares me most is the brazenness of it, if I were fudging numbers I might let some really close person (who isn't connected to my job) know about it years later. How can scientists be so cavalier about inventing data as to allow coworkers to witness them doing it? The far scarier thought is that despite scientists hiding data manipulation that it is so prevalent that the small fraction of events witnessed is such a large absolute number.

Jan 13, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered Commentermax

the choice of Chancellor surely says more about the university than anything else can. The fact that a university has a Play School presenter as Chancellor suggests that this is a play school university. The role of a chancellor is to embody the institution's image...it would be like electing a clown like Tony Blair to be PM of the UK....;)

Jan 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

I suggest that the whole era of fraud and error in published papers can be ended if:

Recognised professional journals insist that ALL raw data, programs, methods and results are archived in an independent, AUDITED public archive, BEFORE drafts of proposed papers are submitted for peer review.
Any resulting changes should also be similarly archived before acceptance for publication.

Papers accepted for publication should not cite other papers for reference that do not comply with these strict conditions. This latter requirement would quickly reform or kill off today's crop of cowboy journals, such as xxxxxx and xxxxxx and xxxxxx.
(You can fill out the blanks).

Jan 14, 2012 at 3:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

still it is very important that there is always transparency in every organizations or institutions. More of this, it is important to select and assign a good leader. A leader with clean records no trace of any bad record even a minor offense. By that way it would be very easy to have a strong, transparent and good organization.

Jan 17, 2012 at 8:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterBackground Check

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