Stephen E. Arnold: Fraud in Academic Publishing

Academia, Corruption
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

The Slipping Standards in Academic Publishing

There is a troubling article over at Priceonomics titled, “Fraud in the Ivory Tower.” The post begins with the tale of former Tilburg University professor Diederik Stapel, who was found in 2012 to have fabricated or manipulated data in at least 30 papers that had been published in peer-reviewed journals. This case is a dramatic example of a growing problem; Fang Labs reports that instances of fraud or suspected fraud tripled between the 2002-2006 period and 2007-2011. Why the uptick?

We’re reminded that the famed “publish or perish” academic culture grows ever more demanding. At the same time, policies at scientific journals often mean that research integrity takes a back seat to provocative assertions.

We learn:

“According to experimental psychologist Chris Chambers, high-impact journals (particularly in the field of psychology) look for results that are ‘exciting, eye-opening, even implausible.’ Novelty pieces. As psychologist Joseph Simmons told the science journal Nature: ‘When we review papers, we’re often making authors prove that their findings are novel or interesting. We’re not often making them prove that their findings are true.’”

Lovely. The write-up goes on to reveal that retractions are on the rise; the PubMed database contained only three publication retractions in 2000, but 180 in 2009. What’s more, these retractions are occurring most often at journals with high prestige (as measured by how often its papers are cited in other works).

The article states:

“Again, it is possible that this increase is caused by a stronger online watchdog culture. But regardless of whether the fraud is new or newly discovered, the case of Diederik Stapel reveals the ugly underbelly of scientific research. The pressure to publish frequently in prestigious journals has made it more likely for researchers to cut corners and manipulate data.”

The piece naturally concludes with a call for improvement. In doing so, the writer supplies this link to an article advocating open access to academic papers. Interesting.

Cynthia Murrell, January 07, 2014

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