Monetary Motivations
February-2017 (by Jana Rieger)

Why do people commit fraud? If we’re speaking generally, the desire to gain a fortune is one likely answer. Take for instance the recently uncovered $8M fraud scheme, dubbed Project Fellowship, in Ontario.

But when it comes to scientific fraud, how is fortune a motivation? In A Course in Deception, the monetary motivations are, shall we say, subtle. But that’s fiction. What about fact?

Let’s look at the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who published false data about childhood vaccines and the development of autism. In a British Medical Journal article in 2011, Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a lawyer who was working on a lawsuit related to the association of vaccines and autism. This fact brought into question Wakefield’s motivation.

The monetary relationship may not always be that clear. In a different example of scientific misconduct, anesthesiologist Dr. Scott Reuben faked data in 21 studies related to pain control for patients undergoing orthopedic surgery. In his case, money could have been a motivation – just not in the way you may think. According to Brendan Borrell, reporter for Scientific American, Dr Reuben received five research grants from a well-known pharmaceutical company. But, the money didn’t come directly into Reuben’s pocket, so really – what were the benefits to him? Well, all those grants would have been listed on his curriculum vitae, and nothing says success like a large research grant with your name on it. The indirect benefits of receiving a substantial research grant should not be overlooked either. In the granting game, the rich get richer; funders may be more inclined to fund the funded. 

Most journals now require scientists to declare any conflicts of interest and, if they don’t, they risk getting their article retracted should it ever come to light

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