30.4.13

Academic fraud (NYT)

"In his early years of research — when he supposedly collected real experimental data — Stapel wrote papers laying out complicated and messy relationships between multiple variables. He soon realized that journal editors preferred simplicity. “They are actually telling you: ‘Leave out this stuff. Make it simpler,’ ” Stapel told me. Before long, he was striving to write elegant articles.

... His lifelong obsession with elegance and order, he said, led him to concoct sexy results that journals found attractive...

What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. ...

Stapel ... committed fraud in at least 55 of his papers, as well as in 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students... Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top journals were to blame for letting him get away with it. The committees identified several practices as “sloppy science” — misuse of statistics, ignoring of data that do not conform to a desired hypothesis and the pursuit of a compelling story no matter how scientifically unsupported it may be...

[Stapel’s fraud may shine a spotlight on dishonesty in science, but scientific fraud is hardly new. ... The once-celebrated South Korean stem-cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk stunned scientists in his field a few years ago after it was discovered that almost all of the work for which he was known was fraudulent. The prominent Harvard evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser resigned in 2011 during an investigation by the Office of Research Integrity at the Department of Health and Human Services that would end up determining that some of his papers contained fabricated data.

Every year, the Office of Research Integrity uncovers numerous instances­ of bad behavior by scientists... A blog called Retraction Watch publishes a steady stream of posts about papers being retracted by journals because of allegations or evidence of misconduct.

... the scientific misconduct that has come to light in recent years suggests at the very least that the number of bad actors in science isn’t as insignificant as many would like to believe. And considered from a more cynical point of view, figures like Hwang and Hauser are not outliers so much as one end on a continuum of dishonest behaviors that extend from the cherry-picking of data to fit a chosen hypothesis — which many researchers admit is commonplace — to outright fabrication.]"

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