February 14, 2024 | Jerry Bergman

Rampant Fraud in Science Grows

The epidemic of fraud in
science hits an all-time high

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Linköping University Assistant-Professor Lonni Besançon has focused his career during the last few years on the task of identifying fraudulent research papers. Briefly, Besançon

is one of a host of scientific integrity sleuths sounding the alarm on counterfeit research. The number of research articles retracted in 2023 hit an all-time high, with over 10,000 papers pulled for fraudulent practices. The fraud ranges from images recycled from previous papers to entirely fabricated datasets. The sham papers aren’t only annoying, they’re harmful to ­scientific fields and in some cases even ­dangerous.[1]

One analysis of academic fraud determined that, of 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed retracted on May 3, 2012, revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication of the same paper in a different paper (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%).[2]

This is a serious indictment of science and is one more reason why science has lost much of its credibility in the past decade, especially research findings related to the COVID pandemic.[3] Ironically, for one unclear reason the fraud crisis is especially a concern of those who lean politically to one party.

A major finding is the number of scientific papers retracted has increased more than five-fold between 2013 and 2023.[4] The fraud investigators have also concluded that the 10,000 research papers that were retracted in 2023 is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Professor Besançon reasons that the body of fraudulent research is much greater than what’s being retracted because we are catching the easier-to-catch papers, namely those with obvious errors such as using the same data tables and charts for two different studies.

The Reasons for the Epidemic of Fraud

The reasons for the epidemic are many, including the researchers drive for prestige, tenure, promotions, obtain grant renewals, the powerful career-pressure researchers face to publish frequently, vindication of one’s theory, professional rivalry, and the need to prove one’s ideas.[5]

Status as a research scientist is assessed based on three metrics: ­number of publications, number of citations, and an h-index, which quantifies a researcher’s productivity and impact. These metrics can incentivize unscrupulous scientists to produce “bogus stuff. … There’s no value in doing one very good paper, but there’s value in doing six good enough papers.”[6]

Another factor some add is the rejection of Christianity and moral absolutes, which has resulted in a deterioration of the moral foundation that is critical in controlling fraud. Some claim that the problem is so serious that it is possible that the majority of published research claims are, at least in part, false.[7]

In researching the validity of the various supports for evolution, in my experience, it is common to come across biased research and conclusions and even outright grossly inaccurate claims. Although much of the “research” defending evolution is, at its core, opinion articles and not data, these papers are not likely to be flagged as fraudulent. Consequently, the number of academic fraud cases is likely much higher than Professor Besançon estimates.

Fraud and Darwinism

Fraud is especially a problem in attempts to support Darwinism and, in this field, it may require decades to root out fraud. Hundreds of well-documented cases of fraud have been discussed in the literature.[8] Some well-known examples include the Piltdown Man hoax, Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law, and the Hesperopithecus, Confuciusornis, and Archaeoraptor fossil forgeries.

Fraud Detection Problems

Unfortunately, except for replication, which is uncommon in many fields and impossible in some, fraud in science often is very difficult to detect. It is especially very difficult to catch researchers who use very sophisticated fabrication techniques. Most are very bright, well-educated experienced professionals who realize getting caught could end their career. Thus, they avoid some of the more obvious mistakes, such as producing results that are too perfect, such as every case in a medical study was completely cured.

Usually, it is lab assistants and co-workers who uncover fraud, and are often unwilling to report fraud because doing so could cost them support of their colleagues, tarnish their reputation, and result in retaliation. Snitching on an esteemed colleague could cause young untenured researchers trouble, such as being blackballed by one’s professional associates and excluded from their academic field.  The most well-known case is that of David Baltimore. He was never seriously suspected of faking anything, but defending the work of a biomedical scientist at M.I.T. Thereza Imanishi‑Kari. Baltimore was one of six coauthors of the disputed paper published in the 1986 journal Cell.[9]

Dr Bergman discusses frauds prompted by Darwinian beliefs.

Exposing fraud by evolutionists, judging how long it took to detect the Piltdown, Haeckel, and similar frauds, can take decades. Exposing fraud by Darwinists may result in the ‘anti-science of creationists’ label. Many evolutionists are not motivated to carefully check papers that support evolution. Furthermore, they at some level want the papers that support their worldview to be true and, thus, read the papers with the presumption that evolution must be true.

Too Few Workers in This Field

Exposing fraud is not a crowded profession. Most integrity sleuths are not directly paid for their work and may receive legal threats—or even death threats. The research community should offer protection and some compensation for the handful of fraud researchers. If more time was spent in this field, we could more accurately determine the number of counterfeit papers, which would most likely be higher than the current estimates. Even the publishers are now encouraging more workers in the fraud-detection area. A leading journal publisher, John Wiley & Sons, has been forced to cease publishing four of their journals due to the number of proven fraud cased they have published. Wiley anticipates the paper-retraction scandal will cost their company 35 to 40 million dollars in revenue. Preventing fraud earlier would  likely have prevented publishing some, or many, of the papers that they did publish.

Why Exposing Fraud is Critical

Frank detailed some of the reasons why identifying fraud is very important, writing that

fraudulent papers themselves carry serious implications for the scientific community. Some researchers may continue to rely on sham research unwittingly, even after an article has been retracted. If, for example, an investigator is running a human clinical trial relying on false claims that a certain medication has health benefits, the consequences could be catastrophic. “Imagine you then give that [medication] to people in another study somewhere else to just reproduce the results, and then you end up killing people,” Besançon said. “That could happen.”[10]

Conversely, fraudulent papers could mislead researchers, and delays in publication can also cause problems:

Traditionally, scientific progress has relied on trust and the relatively slow cycle of peer review, publication, and citation of research data. The current Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic not only accelerated the speed of research but also brought to light some severe shortcomings of the scientific publication process, such as failures to quickly address errors or to catch and prevent scientific misconduct.[11]

Summary

Scientific misconduct, bias, and outright fraud cause major problems in all areas of science. This is especially a problem in papers supporting evolution. At the least, this problem should be widely known by creation supporters who tend to too uncritically accept much work done by Darwinists. This caution includes myself. In the past I have uncritically repeated the results of what appeared to be well-documented material by reputable scientists. For one example, I have relied on many papers by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, but later learned he was found to engage in “apparently fudging data in order to be able to accuse someone else of fudging data.”[12]

References

[1] Frank, Heather. “Artificial research. A recent surge of academic fraud spells trouble for scientific integrity.” World 38(24):65-66, p.65;.  https://wng.org/articles/artificial-research-1705629869, 10 February 2024.

[2] Fang, Ferric, et al. “Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 109(42):17028-17033; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1212247109, October 2012.

[3] Kennedy, Brian, et al. “Americans’ Trust in Scientists, Other Groups Declines.” Pew Research Center; https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2022/02/15/americans-trust-in-scientists-other-groups-declines/, 12 February 2022.

[4] Noorden, Richard Van. “More than 10,000 research papers were retracted in 2023 — a new record.” Nature 624:479-481, 12 December 2023.

[5] Besançon, L., N. Peiffer-Smadja, C. Segalas, et al. “Open science saves lives: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.” BMC Medical Research  Methodology  21:117; https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-021-01304-y, 2021.

[6] Frank, 2024, p. 66.

[7] Ioannidis, J.P.A. “Why most published research findings are false.” PLoS Medicine 2(8):696–701, 2005.

[8] See Retraction Watch Website; https://retractionwatch.com/retraction-watch-database-user-guide/retraction-watch-database-user-guide-appendix-a-fields/.

[9] Mark, Mary Ellen. The Assault on David Baltimore. The New Yorker. May 27, 1996.

[10] Frank. 2024, p. 66.

[11] Besançon, L., E. Bik, J. Heathers, and G. Meyerowitz-Katz. “Correction of scientific literature: Too little, too late!” PLoS Biology 20(3):e3001572; https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001572, 3 March 2022.

[12]  Lewis, J.E., D. DeGusta, M.R. Meyer, J.M. Monge, A.E. Mann, and R.L. Holloway. “The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias.” PLoS Biology 9(6):e1001071; https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001071, 7 June 2011.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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