US scientists are significantly more likely to publish fake research than scientists from elsewhere, a study of officially withdrawn studies shows.
R Grant Steen searched the PubMed database for every scientific research paper that had been withdrawn and officially expunged from the public record between 2000 and 2010.
The team found that 788 papers were retracted during this period. Of these, around three quarters were withdrawn because of a serious error, with the rest of the retractions attributed to fraud.
The highest number of retracted papers – 260 – had an American as first author, accounting for a third of the total. One in three of these was attributed to fraud.
The UK, India, Japan, and China each had more than 40 papers withdrawn during the decade. Asian nations, including South Korea, accounted for 30 percent of retractions, with one in four of these attributed to fraud.
The fakes were more likely to appear in leading publications cited widely in other peer reviewed journals.
The team found that more than half the faked research papers had been written by a first author who was a ‘repeat offender’ -which was the case in only one in five of the papers withdrawn because of error.
The average number of authors on all retracted papers was three, but some had 10 or more. Faked research papers were significantly more likely to have multiple authors.
Each first author who was a repeat fraudster had an average of six co-authors, each of whom had had another three retractions on average.
“The duplicity of some authors is cause for concern,” say the authors. Retraction, they add, is the strongest sanction that can be applied to published research, but is currently “a very blunt instrument used for offences both gravely serious and trivial.”