New Delhi, Oct. 1: India and China appear to lead in plagiarism in life sciences research, but the US, Japan and Germany account for the majority of fraud, scientists reported today after a large analysis of shamed research.
Their study, described as the most comprehensive analysis yet of retracted research papers, also suggests that China accounts for a larger share of plagiarism, duplication and fraud or suspected fraud in life sciences research compared with India.
US scientists who analysed the origins of 2,047 retracted papers said that while scientific misconduct is rare — been retracted — its incidence appears greater than previously assumed.
The study has revealed geographical differences in causes of retractions. Three-fourths of the retractions due to fraud or suspected fraud were by researchers in the US, Germany and Japan, but India and China accounted for most of the retractions due to plagiarism or duplication. The findings appeared today in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Microbiologist Ferric C. Fang at the University of Washington and his colleagues found that 67.4 per cent of the retractions were because of misconduct — fraud, suspected fraud, plagiarism or duplication — while 21.3 per cent were because of errors.
The analysis has shown a sharp increase in the number of retracted papers over the past 15 years. “This may reflect more misconduct and better detection,” Fang told The Telegraph.
India accounted for 3.4 per cent (30 papers) of the 889 papers retracted for fraud or suspected fraud, 10 per cent (20 papers) of the 200 retracted for plagiarism, and 9 per cent (26 papers) of the 290 retracted because of duplication (see chart). China’s count was higher under each head: 6.7 per cent (59 papers), 11.5 per cent (23 papers), and 20 per cent (58 papers), respectively.
Fang, however, has cautioned that the analysis was not designed for country-to-country comparisons, which would ideally also require data of the total number of research papers published by each country.
“The cause of (scientific) fraud is complex,” Fang said. American psychiatrist Donald Kornfeld at Columbia University, New York, had published a paper earlier this year that said misconduct depends on both the psychological traits of individual scientists and the specific circumstances in which they work.
Indian scientists tracking academic ethics say the findings raise questions.
“I’m not sure whether the comparatively lower rate of fraud-related retraction from India is because Indians commit less fraud or because the papers aren’t important enough to warrant additional scrutiny,” said Rahul Siddharthan, a scientist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.
The detection of fraud typically starts when other scientists try to independently replicate important results reported by one research group, Siddharthan said. Plagiarism and duplication is much easier to detect, he added.
Several cases of plagiarism have emerged in India in recent years, some involving researchers in high-profile institutions such as the IITs, but senior scientists tracking misconduct say there is little institutional response.
“There’s little done about this,” said Kasturi Lal Chopra, a member of the Society for Scientific Values, a non-government watchdog in India for scientific ethics.
“This contrasts with China, where the government about a year or so ago blacklisted many scientists caught in misconduct.”
Fang, lead author of the new study, said the science environment in the US, Japan and Germany was highly competitive and scientists were under pressure to produce high-impact research publications to achieve funding and job advancement.
“Obviously, this is not a justification for fraud, but measures to alleviate stress in the research community would be likely to reduce incentives for misconduct,” Fang said.
He said the geographical differences might reflect differences in cultural concepts of intellectual property or in proficiency in the English language.
Some papers might qualify as both plagiarism and fraud, said T.A. Abinandanan, professor of materials engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, who has independently been tracking misconduct in India.
Several papers a scientist in Andhra Pradesh retracted between 2005 and 2010, for instance, had not just plagiarised text but had also changed the names of chemical compounds and reagents. Abinandanan labels it a case of falsification.
Fang collaborated with immunologist Arturo Casadevall at the Albert Einstein College in New York and R. Grant Steen, head of a medical communications consultancy.