In Science We Trust
February-2017 (by Jana Rieger)

Did your mother ever tell you not to believe everything that you read? It might have been sage advice. With the ability to publish just about anything on the internet, and the current ‘fake news’ debacle, we should be very cautious about believing what’s out there. 

But what about real science – the kind that has been carried out in a controlled setting and been scrutinized by a scientist’s peers before publication? The kind that Dr. Mackenzie Smith carries out in A Course in Deception. Should you believe everything that scientists report? 

Daniele Fanelli set out to understand just that. He completed a meta-analysis, where he combined data from many studies that surveyed scientists about research misconduct. One very interesting, and almost reassuring, finding was that only 2% of the survey respondents admitted to ever fabricating or falsifying data or results. Now, while these numbers sound low, consider that the number of scientific articles published per year has been estimated by Arif Jinha to be somewhere around 1,500,000. When we put those two pieces of information together, it would suggest that nearly 30,000 fraudulent research reports published per year. 

But wait – don’t you think that self-report of research misconduct is likely fairly low? The answer would seem to be yes. Fanelli found that when researchers were asked about the behavior of colleagues, 14% said they knew of instances of data falsification. If you do the math, that’s a whole lot more deception out there.


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