Funding squeeze may force research fraud
Last week the BMJ revealed that one in eight UK scientists has witnessed research fraud. The problem mainly involved the fabrication or alteration of results ahead of publication. Whilst scientific results are subject to the close scrutiny of the peer-review process, we have to stop and ask why so many researchers are waiving the ethical code by which science lives or dies.
Financial pressures may be a major factor. Purse String Theory has previously highlighted the forecasts that scientists are being asked to make regarding their research. If predictions prove to be slightly awry, and that is probable rather than possible, the temptation to tweak the numbers may be too great. With competition for funding so high, it may be the best looking results that win the day, rather than the most rigorous research methods.
Another pressure is presented by the academic publishers. Their monopoly on knowledge has been discussed by PST, as well as the Guardian, and they may be provoking researchers into “sexing up” their results to secure publication in a more prestigious journal. Publication then leads to a better chance of repeat funding, and the circle continues.
The UK’s research status is already at risk after the comprehensive spending review. Forcing researchers into a corner will only further jeopardise this position as they produce results that look stunning but are based on an increasingly shaky body of scientific knowledge.
Newton famously said: “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The alarming increase in the number of fraudulent results will fracture the foundations of scientific knowledge and, far worse, destroy the already wavering trust in scientists that generations have worked so hard to build.