Fraud and misconduct are the most common reasons research papers are retracted, a recent study found. The study has ignited the debate on how scientific publishing could be improved. These discussions often focus on how university professors’ salaries and careers are tied to the results of their studies, but the problem starts far before that. Recently, a friend of mine commented that her ability to get into a PhD program in Sweden was tied not only to her talent, but to whether the study she decides to do for her Master ‘s degree produces positive results. The program accepts only a few new students each year and places great emphasis on if the student has been published or not. Meanwhile, journals favour studies with positive, new and surprising results. If academic journals more often published the “boring” findings, researchers would feel less pressured to come to exciting conclusions.
A centralised retraction database could also prevent fraudulent researchers from being published multiple times, suggests Pär Segerdahl, Senior Resarcher at Uppsala University, on the Ethics Blog. But efforts to stop fraudulent research from being published must be multidisciplinary, and academic institutions also have a large role to play. Next week, Pete Etchells, biological psychologist; and Suzi Gage, epidemiology PhD student; at University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, will hold a session on academic misconduct during the SpotOn London conference, which is organised by Nature Publishing Group. The science blogs Counterbalanced and Sifting the Evidence will post guests blogs from some of the session’s panelists during the next few weeks.Camilla Andersson