India, US top science fraud list - Experts say study shows need for research regulatory body

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  • Published 30.11.10

New Delhi, Nov. 29: India tops this list relating to scientific research narrowly ahead of America, but don’t start feeling proud yet.

The two countries’ scientists appear to lead all others in perpetrating fraud in scientific papers and having them retracted, a new study of research misconduct suggests.

The study analysed the origins and authors of 788 scientific papers that were listed in PubMed, a database of medical research literature, and retracted between 2000 and 2010. It found that the US had the largest number of retractions but came second to India when the proportion of papers retracted because of fraud was considered. (See chart)

Among the 788 retractions, 197 papers (a proportion of 0.25) were pulled out for fraud. The findings of the study, published earlier this month in the Journal of Medical Ethics, suggest that the fraud sprang from “a deliberate effort to deceive” rather than “naive or inadvertent behaviour”.

India and the US have nearly the same proportion of papers involving outright fraud to the total number of retracted papers, with India’s figure of 0.34 slightly higher than America’s 0.32. China had a lower proportion of papers involving fraud: 0.22.

“The results suggest that fraud is almost as likely in the US as in India, although the US has a strong regulatory system in place to limit misconduct while India has no such mechanisms,” said Nandula Raghuram, a member of independent ethics watchdog Society for Scientific Values, which has investigated several cases of research misconduct.

“There’s no need at all to push a panic button on Indian research, but the findings provide us statistical evidence to argue for a regulatory mechanism for India,” added Raghuram, associate professor of biotechnology at the Indraprastha University, who was not associated with the study.

The study by R. Grant Steen, an independent medical communications consultant in the US, did not yield any evidence to support speculations that papers submitted from China or other Asian countries indexed in PubMed were more likely to be fraudulent.

Earlier this year, an international journal named Acta Crystallographica had retracted 70 papers by two research groups in China. The large volume of fabricated data had given rise to concerns about the scale of fraud in China.

According to the PubMed figures, China has the second-largest number of retracted papers after the US: 89. But, Steen wrote, China did not have a disproportionate share of fraud. Chinese scientists published 11.5 per cent of all scientific papers, and accounted for 11.3 per cent of retractions.

The study has thrown up evidence to suggest that authors of fraudulent papers often have other retracted papers, tend to have multiple co-authors, and collaborate with co-authors who have other retracted papers.

The US has had a government mechanism, now called the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), to promote integrity in biomedical and behavioural research and to handle cases of research misconduct for more than 20 years.

“Although the US has this mechanism, this study provides no evidence that the ORI’s existence has led to a lower scale of misconduct,” Raghuram said.