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IN DEPTH David Baltimore 22 CNRS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE Biomedical fraud in figures Cause of retraction 1977 to 2012 Number of publications and retractions 1977 to 2013 800,000 600,000 400,000 … of published articles rose between 1977 and 2013, from one in 100,000 articles in 1977 to more than 50 in 2013. Furthermore, a study published in 201213 showed that 67.4% of retraction requests were attributable to misconduct. Yet as the French philosopher of science Anne Fagot- Largeault points out, “since successful fraud is never detected, it is illusory to rely on established cases (one in 100,000 researchers in the US) or the number of articles withdrawn from the PubMed database for ethical violation to evaluate its frequency.”14 In an effort to determine the actual incidence of scientific misconduct more clearly, a handful of studies have been carried out based on responses to anonymous questionnaires. Their findings are worrisome, to say the least. According to a meta-analysis combining the results of 18 surveys conducted in UK and Wrongly Accused 13. F. C. Fang, R. G. Steen, and A. Casadevall, “Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications,” PNAS, 2012. 109(42): 17028-17033. 14. Anne Fagot-Largeault “Petites et grandes fraudes scientifiques: le poids de la compétition” in Gérard Fussman (dir.), La Mondialisation de la recherche: compétition, coopérations, restructurations (Paris: Collège de France, 2011). 15. D. Fanelli, “How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data,” Plos One, 2009. 4(5): e5738. Fraud 43.4 % Other 11.3 % Error 21.3 % Plagiarism 9.8 % Self-Plagiarism 14.2 % 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 1,000,000 200,000 0 Retractions per 100,000 publications Publications 40 30 20 10 0 The few incidences of large-scale fraud should not overshadow the many minor misdeeds committed on a daily basis. SOURCE: PUBMED VIA PMRETRACT.HEROKU.COM SOURCE: FANG ET AL. (2012) PNAS In 1986, a young postdoctoral fellow working as a laboratory trainee at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) accused her director, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, of falsifying the results of a study published in Cell and co-signed by the Nobel laureate David Baltimore. Two initial investigations, one conducted internally by MIT and the other by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), concluded that the article contained only minor errors that did not warrant sanctions or retraction. However, the incident was widely reported in the US press, and a congressman, John Dingell, convinced that the powerful Baltimore had used his influence to smother up a scandal reported by a lone young researcher, convinced the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to reopen the case. Without being given a proper chance to respond to the charges, Imanishi-Kari was declared guilty in 1991 and again in 1994. Meanwhile, Baltimore was forced to resign as president of the Rockefeller University. Finally, an appeal in 1996 cleared Imanishi-Kari and Baltimore of all charges of misconduct. The episode, which put the careers of two outstanding researchers on hold for ten years based on unfounded accusations, illustrates the risk of letting the media and politicians investigate suspicions of scientific fraud.


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