Much potential for cheating: Especially men tend to make data. Image: Thinkstock
Read aloud Fraud in science - or at least in the life sciences - is above all men's business. And: Counterfeits and intentionally misinterpreted data exist in all hierarchical levels of the research institutes. This is the verdict of three US researchers following an analysis of reports from the United States Office for Research Integrity, which is assigned to the Ministry of Health and investigates alleged or actual cases of scientific misconduct in biomedicine. Why men tend more to cheat, however, is so far unclear, says the team - possibly it is in their nature.

In autumn 2012, Ferric Fang of the University of Washington in Seattle and Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York caused a stir with a study on the topic of fraud in science: they had analyzed why researchers withdraw articles in journals - in the Assumption that the majority of cases are based on mistakes or mistakes. In fact, two-thirds of the withdrawals covered were due to fraud or intentionally misrepresented data. In addition, the frequency of such revocation due to scientific misconduct has increased, as the researchers noted.

The two of them need urgent effective anti-fraud strategies to maintain the credibility of science. However, in order to develop such strategies, one must first of all know the reasons for this criminal behavior. However, identifying them was difficult, as most trade journals commented on withdrawals only very briefly and with very general descriptions. Therefore, the researchers decided to collect more data on the originators of such fraud cases first, in order to possibly be able to derive more about the reasons and drives.

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Professor leans to fraud

There were 228 individual suspected cases between 1994 and 2012, according to data from the Research Integrity Office. 215 of these were later classified as frauds. They would have expected that it would be mainly doctoral students and students, the data beautiful or fake, the scientists report. After all, they are under enormous pressure to succeed and depend on good results in order to ascend the hierarchy. In reality, however, cases were spread across all hierarchical levels: only 16 percent were doctoral students, 25 percent postdocs, 28 percent other research personnel such as technicians and guest lecturers, and as many as 32 percent full-time faculty members.

The gender distribution was also surprising for the scientists: At all levels, men were more involved than they should have been according to general statistics, reports the team. For example, around 45 percent of doctoral students in the life sciences are male, but among the fraudsters, 58 percent were men. For the postdocs, the general male quota is about 60 percent, while for the fraud cases it was 69 percent. And among the lecturers and professors, of which a total of 70 percent are men, it was even 88 percent. In concrete terms this means that of the 72 cases of scientific misconduct among faculty members, only nine were attributable to women - that is not even one third of the number that would have been expected according to statistics.

Biology against society

But how does this surplus of men come about? Is it simply the general risk appetite? The stronger competitive thinking? Or are women just getting caught less frequently? One could certainly discuss whether this is an effect of the biological differences between genders - after all, men in virtually all cultures are actually more risk-tolerant and the crime rate is usually much higher, the researchers comment.

However, they consider it more likely that it is above all cultural and social factors that promote such behavior. In addition, one should not forget that the basic structure of the academic institutions to challenge such frauds, they emphasize: To get a reputation or, more importantly, attract many third-party funding, it is essential to produce as much data as possible and good To publish journals. Although this stimulates the competition and thus presumably the quality of research, it also has dark sides - such as the increasing tendency to cheat. It is now important to set up and evaluate larger databases to see if the trends found in the small, specialized group now being studied are generally science-based, the team says.

Original work of the researchers:

  • Ferric Fang (University of Washington, Seattle) et al .: mBio, doi: 10.1128 / mBio.00640-12
Ilka Lehnen-Beyel
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