How easy is it for researchers to “fudge” data when submitting results of their research reports? EASY.
Back in 2005 it was made easier with the release of a free, downloadable computer software that can write fake scientific research papers and succeed in getting them beyond peer group reviews into prestigious scientific research journals. But even before that software, we have learned that scientific research results often were questionable.
In 2014, NATURE, an international and highly respected scientific journal, published an article about a recent practice out there that you ought to find absolutely shocking. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge created a software, that’s right, a computer software, that can write its own scientific research paper. NATURE reports, “SCIgen is free to download and use”.
Computer scientist Cyril Labbé built a website where users can test whether papers have been created using SCIgen. [Click here to visit Labbés website to help detect SCIgen-generated “fake” research papers: http://scigendetection.imag.fr/main.php ] His detection technique, reportedly involves searching for characteristic vocabulary generated by SCIgen. [Source: “Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers”, by Richard Van Noorden. NATURE. Feb. 24., 2014. http://www.nature.com/news/publishers-withdraw-more-than-120-gibberish-papers-1.14763 ]
Hundreds of fake papers are reportedly published, not all of which have been retracted. One of the reasons for fake papers–not that anything can excuse lying, cheating, or fake research–was the pressure exerted on researchers, especially professors to publish research. Per that NATURE article, “…researchers feel pressured to rush out papers to publish as much as possible.”
This phenomenon of fake science research goes back quite a few years, possibly even decades. The reason for that is the way research grants are doled out to researchers. “…research grants and promotions are awarded on the basis of the number of articles published, not on the quality of the original research.” [Source: “Faking of scientific papers on an industrial scale in China”, by OliverSparrow. THE NEW REDDIT JOURNAL OF SCIENCE. 2014. https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/1nd3ly/ faking_of_scientific_papers_on_an_industrial/ ]
Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, examined a number of scientific journals. What she found was astonishing. Though she focused specifically on CHINA, it was discovered that not all the papers examined originated in China. In other words, this problem is pervasive around the world. She admonishes that governments need to pay attention and treat this fakery in scientific research as a serious problem. She strongly urges governments to, “…reinvigorate standards for teaching research ethics and for the conduct of the research itself”. [“Rampant Fraud Threat to China’s Brisk Ascent.” By Andrew Jacobs. THE NEW YORK TIMES. October 6, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/world/asia/07fraud.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1 ]
Over 2,000 scientists across China’s leading institutions have admitted to fakery, to plagiarizing or faking research and research results. The New York Times article goes on to mention that the China Association for Science and Technology found researchers who knew of more than 16,000 researchers who were providing fraudulent research.
Lest you think CHINA is the only place we need be concerned about, not so. Cheating is rampant among research grant seekers. Here in North America, the problem is so bad that Etienne LeBel, a candidate for PhD. and professorship, set aside those ambitions for a cause he deems currently more noble and worthy. He is labelled a Canadian Trail Blazer for having created a website, PsychDisclosure.org, to allow researchers to document ALL OF THE DATA and not just that data which gets published. [Source: “London Scientist Etienne LeBel Has Exposed Questionable Work of Senior Researchers”, by Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press. Sept. 5, 2015: http://www.lfpress.com/2015/09/04/london-scientist-etienne-lebel-has-exposed-questionable-work-of-senior-researchers ]
He is careful to avoid accusing researchers of fakery, but insists that many times the results of research are hard to replicate because of the information that is not published along with the published research. Replicatability of a study is critical and to do that, all the data must be examined and used when replicating a study. So, he created a space on the web for researchers to reveal all the data so that other researchers can validate a published study by being able to replicate it accurately and in its entirety. At PsychDiscloure.org, researchers, for the first time, have a place where they can document some of the key elements that separate valid research from what I will label as quackery. There they can reveal, as that website dictates:
- Observations excluded and criterion for doing so.
- All tested experimental conditions, including failed those that failed.
- All administered measures and items.
- Rationale for sample sizes and reasons for curtailing data collection.
A research paper that can not be replicated, in my opinion, ought to be viewed with great suspicion. You or I are likely not experts in statistical analysis so we have to hope that enough qualified eyes are looking closely at all published research and that, when the outcomes are significant to our health or are otherwise significant for furtherance of Science, that the studies can be CONSISTENTLY REPLICATED. Consistent replication is the only way to prove the study results are valid.
When science loses its integrity and is no longer truthful, objective and trustworthy, we have no place to turn to for the furtherance of human knowledge. Corrupt our science and you destroy the future of humankind. This ought to be very concerning to everyone. We ought to demand of our politicians and institutions a much better system for the approval of research results and very stiff fines or even imprisonment for scientists and researchers who cheat or who publish scam research.
After all, what’s the difference between injuring or killing someone with a gun or with research conclusions that are nothing but a lowly scam?