[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Global Trend: More Science, More Fraud
checker at panix.com
Tue Jan 3 22:36:16 UTC 2006
Global Trend: More Science, More Fraud
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN and WILLIAM J. BROAD
The South Korean scandal that shook the world of science last week is just
sign of a global explosion in research that is outstripping the mechanisms
to guard against error and fraud.
Experts say the problem is only getting worse, as research projects, and the
journals that publish the findings, soar.
Science is often said to bar dishonesty and bad research with a triple
net. The first is peer review, in which experts advise governments about
research to finance. The second is the referee system, which has journals
reviewers to judge if manuscripts merit publication. The last is
whereby independent scientists see if the work holds up.
But a series of scientific scandals in the 1970's and 1980's challenged the
scientific community's faith in these mechanisms to root out malfeasance. In
response the United States has over the last two decades added extra
including new laws and government investigative bodies.
And as research around the globe has increased, most without the benefit of
safeguards, so have the cases of scientific misconduct. Most recently,
have swirled around a dazzling series of cloning advances by a South Korean
scientist, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk.
Dr. Hwang's research made him a national hero. His team outdid rivals by
to have extracted stem cells from cloned human embryos and to have cloned a
an extraordinary feat. Some observers hailed the breakthroughs as worthy of
Last month, critics charged that Dr. Hwang's published findings hid ethical
lapses. And last week, collaborators accused the researcher of fabricating
results in one of his landmark human cloning studies, published in Science
Dr. Hwang has insisted on his innocence but said he would retract the
paper. Now questions are growing about his earlier work, including Snuppy,
dog he claims to have cloned. Yesterday, news agencies reported that Seoul
National University officials investigating Dr. Hwang's claims locked down
laboratory, impounded his computer and interviewed his colleagues, among
"The Korean case shows us that we should be a lot more cautious," Marcel C.
LaFollette, the author of "Stealing Into Print: Fraud, Plagiarism, and
in Scientific Publishing," said in an interview. "We have been unwilling to
tough questions of people who are from other countries and whose systems are
different because we were attempting to be polite."
To be sure, most scientists resist pressures to cut corners and adhere to
canons of science, honoring the truth above all else. But surveys suggest
there are powerful undercurrents of misbehavior and, in some cases, outright
In June, a survey of 3,427 scientists by the University of Minnesota and the
HealthPartners Research Foundation reported that up to a third of the
had engaged in ethically questionable practices, from ignoring contradictory
facts to falsifying data.
Scientific fraud as a public danger burst into public view in the 1970's and
1980's, when major cases of misconduct shook a number of elite publications
institutions, including Yale, Harvard and Columbia.
In 1981, Dr. Donald Fredrickson, then the director of the National
Health, defended the standard view of science as a self-correcting
"We deliberately have a very small police force because we know that poor
currency will automatically be discovered and cast out," he said.
But fraud after fraud made the weaknesses of that system impossible to
the early 1980's, a young cardiology researcher, Dr. John R. Darsee, was
have fabricated much data for more than 100 papers he wrote while working at
Harvard and Emory Universities. His work appeared in The New England Journal
Medicine, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The
Journal of Cardiology, among other top publications.
Startled, the federal government, beginning in 1985, took steps to augment
existing safeguards. For instance, Congress passed a law requiring public
private institutions to establish formal ways to investigate charges of
theory helping to assess damage, clear the air and protect the innocent.
Eventually, the federal government established its own investigative body,
known by the Orwellian title of the Office of Research Integrity.
Journal editors, at the center of the storm, also took collective action to
enhance their credibility. In 1997, they founded the Committee on
Ethics, or COPE, "to provide a sounding board for editors who are struggling
how to best deal with possible breaches in research and publication ethics,"
according to the group's Web site.
Consisting mostly of editors of medical journals, the committee now has more
300 members in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Still, the frauds kept coming. In 1999, federal investigators found that a
scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., faked
been hailed as crucial evidence linking power lines to cancer. He published
research in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and F.E.B.S.
a journal of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies.
The year 2002 proved especially bleak. At Bell Labs, a series of
claims that seemed destined to win a Nobel Prize, including the creation of
molecular-scale transistors, suddenly collapsed. Two of the world's most
prestigious journals, Science and Nature, had published many of the
papers, underscoring the need for better safeguards despite two decades of
Experts now say that the explosive growth of science around the globe has
the problem far worse, because most countries have yet to institute the
measures that the United States has put in place. That imbalance is at least
partly responsible for a rise in scientific scandals in other countries,
Dr. Richard S. Smith, a former editor of The British Medical Journal (now
and the co-founder of the Committee on Publication Ethics, a group of
editors, said in an interview that fraud was becoming increasingly difficult
root out because most countries' protective measures were either patchy or
altogether absent. "It's hard enough to do something nationally, and to do
internationally is still harder," he said. "But that's what is needed."
Contributing to the problem is a drastic rise in the number of scientific
journals published around the world: more than 54,000, according to Ulrich's
Periodicals Directory. This glut can confuse researchers, overwhelm
quality-control systems, encourage fraud and distort the public perception
"Foreign scientific journals have gone through the roof," said Shawn Chen, a
senior associate editor at Ulrich's, nearly doubling to 29,098 in 2005 from
15,300 in 1980. "We're having a hard time keeping up."
While millions of articles are never read or cited - and some are written
to pad résumés - others enter the pressure cooker of scientific and
promotion, becoming lucrative elements of companies' business strategies.
Until now, cases of questionable research in other countries have gotten
attention in the United States. But international editors, shaken by
now publicizing them and expressing concern. This year, the July 30 issue of
devoted four articles to the subject, asking on its cover: "Suspicions of
in medical research: Who should investigate?"
The articles discussed cases in which several publications, including BMJ,
stumbled in resolving serious doubts about the truthfulness of published
done in Canada and India. The Canadian research claimed that a patented mix
multivitamins improved brain function in older people, and the Indian study
that low-fat, high-fiber diets cut by nearly half the risk of death from
The BMJ said that it published its own version of the Indian research in
1992 and that it had later investigated serious questions about the validity
the research for more than a decade before speaking out.
The difficulty, the editors said, was that journals could go only so far in
inquiries before needing the aid of national investigative bodies and
professional associations that oversee scientific research. But in the
Canadian cases, they added, such bodies either did not exist or refused to
so "the doubts are unresolved."
The journal's editors, Dr. Fiona Godlee and Dr. Jane Smith, noted that the
States and Scandinavian countries had adopted institutional defenses and
Britain was considering such safeguards. Journals have an obligation to help
process, they concluded, by publicizing their difficulties and doubts.
Most recently, the South Korean uproar illustrates the tangle of publishing
policing issues that can arise as science becomes increasingly competitive
"Now we're in a situation where we have these alliances between university
researchers in countries and between institutions that really weren't
together before," said Dr. LaFollette, author of "Stealing Into Print."
The journal Science, owned by the American Association for the Advancement
Science, published the research of Dr. Hwang of Seoul National University
colleagues in March 2004 and June 2005, hailing it as pathbreaking.
On Dec. 14, the magazine noted in a statement how fraud charges about the
research had led to two investigations - one in South Korea and the other at
University of Pittsburgh, home to one of the article's 25 co-authors. "The
journal itself is not an investigative body," Donald Kennedy, the magazine's
editor, argued. "We await answers from the authors, as well as official
conclusions, before we come to any ourselves."
On Friday in a news conference, Dr. Kennedy emphasized that the magazine had
no accusations of fraud against Dr. Hwang. "As of now we can't reach any
conclusions with respect to misconduct issues," he said.
Independent scientists said it remained to be seen how thoroughly
South Korea, where Dr. Hwang is a celebrity, would investigate the case and
resolve knotty issues in what amounts to a highly public test of
Seoul National University is leading the inquiry. Its committee, which
has the authority to examine Dr. Hwang's raw data and to question his
may have the best chance of discovering how much of his work remains valid.
But experts also cautioned that the committee's credibility requires the
of outsiders, and perhaps scientists from other countries, who know the
can help ensure that the investigation will retain its objectivity.
"Unfortunately, individual institutions have an enormous conflict of
said Dr. Smith, the former editor of The British Medical Journal. "It's a
easier," he said, for such bodies when examining an allegation of fraud on
own, "to slide someone out of the organization or to suppress it
More information about the paleopsych