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      Misconduct Policies, Academic Culture and Career Stage, Not Gender or Pressures to Publish, Affect Scientific Integrity

      1 , * , 2 , 3
      PLoS ONE
      Public Library of Science

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          The honesty and integrity of scientists is widely believed to be threatened by pressures to publish, unsupportive research environments, and other structural, sociological and psychological factors. Belief in the importance of these factors has inspired major policy initiatives, but evidence to support them is either non-existent or derived from self-reports and other sources that have known limitations. We used a retrospective study design to verify whether risk factors for scientific misconduct could predict the occurrence of retractions, which are usually the consequence of research misconduct, or corrections, which are honest rectifications of minor mistakes. Bibliographic and personal information were collected on all co-authors of papers that have been retracted or corrected in 2010-2011 (N=611 and N=2226 papers, respectively) and authors of control papers matched by journal and issue (N=1181 and N=4285 papers, respectively), and were analysed with conditional logistic regression. Results, which avoided several limitations of past studies and are robust to different sampling strategies, support the notion that scientific misconduct is more likely in countries that lack research integrity policies, in countries where individual publication performance is rewarded with cash, in cultures and situations were mutual criticism is hampered, and in the earliest phases of a researcher’s career. The hypothesis that males might be prone to scientific misconduct was not supported, and the widespread belief that pressures to publish are a major driver of misconduct was largely contradicted: high-impact and productive researchers, and those working in countries in which pressures to publish are believed to be higher, are less-likely to produce retracted papers, and more likely to correct them. Efforts to reduce and prevent misconduct, therefore, might be most effective if focused on promoting research integrity policies, improving mentoring and training, and encouraging transparent communication amongst researchers.

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          Most cited references25

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          Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists' Bias? An Empirical Support from US States Data

          The growing competition and “publish or perish” culture in academia might conflict with the objectivity and integrity of research, because it forces scientists to produce “publishable” results at all costs. Papers are less likely to be published and to be cited if they report “negative” results (results that fail to support the tested hypothesis). Therefore, if publication pressures increase scientific bias, the frequency of “positive” results in the literature should be higher in the more competitive and “productive” academic environments. This study verified this hypothesis by measuring the frequency of positive results in a large random sample of papers with a corresponding author based in the US. Across all disciplines, papers were more likely to support a tested hypothesis if their corresponding authors were working in states that, according to NSF data, produced more academic papers per capita. The size of this effect increased when controlling for state's per capita R&D expenditure and for study characteristics that previous research showed to correlate with the frequency of positive results, including discipline and methodology. Although the confounding effect of institutions' prestige could not be excluded (researchers in the more productive universities could be the most clever and successful in their experiments), these results support the hypothesis that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists' productivity but also their bias. The same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.
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            “Positive” Results Increase Down the Hierarchy of the Sciences

            The hypothesis of a Hierarchy of the Sciences with physical sciences at the top, social sciences at the bottom, and biological sciences in-between is nearly 200 years old. This order is intuitive and reflected in many features of academic life, but whether it reflects the “hardness” of scientific research—i.e., the extent to which research questions and results are determined by data and theories as opposed to non-cognitive factors—is controversial. This study analysed 2434 papers published in all disciplines and that declared to have tested a hypothesis. It was determined how many papers reported a “positive” (full or partial) or “negative” support for the tested hypothesis. If the hierarchy hypothesis is correct, then researchers in “softer” sciences should have fewer constraints to their conscious and unconscious biases, and therefore report more positive outcomes. Results confirmed the predictions at all levels considered: discipline, domain and methodology broadly defined. Controlling for observed differences between pure and applied disciplines, and between papers testing one or several hypotheses, the odds of reporting a positive result were around 5 times higher among papers in the disciplines of Psychology and Psychiatry and Economics and Business compared to Space Science, 2.3 times higher in the domain of social sciences compared to the physical sciences, and 3.4 times higher in studies applying behavioural and social methodologies on people compared to physical and chemical studies on non-biological material. In all comparisons, biological studies had intermediate values. These results suggest that the nature of hypotheses tested and the logical and methodological rigour employed to test them vary systematically across disciplines and fields, depending on the complexity of the subject matter and possibly other factors (e.g., a field's level of historical and/or intellectual development). On the other hand, these results support the scientific status of the social sciences against claims that they are completely subjective, by showing that, when they adopt a scientific approach to discovery, they differ from the natural sciences only by a matter of degree.
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              The perverse effects of competition on scientists' work and relationships.

              Competition among scientists for funding, positions and prestige, among other things, is often seen as a salutary driving force in U.S. science. Its effects on scientists, their work and their relationships are seldom considered. Focus-group discussions with 51 mid- and early-career scientists, on which this study is based, reveal a dark side of competition in science. According to these scientists, competition contributes to strategic game-playing in science, a decline in free and open sharing of information and methods, sabotage of others' ability to use one's work, interference with peer-review processes, deformation of relationships, and careless or questionable research conduct. When competition is pervasive, such effects may jeopardize the progress, efficiency and integrity of science.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
                17 June 2015
                : 10
                : 6
                : e0127556
                [1 ]Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), 1070 Arastradero Road, Stanford University, Palo Alto, 94304, California, United States of America
                [2 ]Center for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 62A, 2333 AL, Leiden, The Netherlands
                [3 ]École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l'information, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, QC, H3C 3J7, Canada, and OST-CIRST, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, QC, H3C 3P8, Canada
                State University of New York, Oswego, UNITED STATES
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: DF. Performed the experiments: DF. Analyzed the data: DF. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: DF RC VL. Wrote the paper: DF RC VL.

                Copyright @ 2015

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

                : 23 February 2015
                : 16 April 2015
                Page count
                Figures: 4, Tables: 1, Pages: 18
                This work was funded by a Committee on Publication Ethics (publicationethics.org) Small Research Grant and by the Canada Research Chairs program.
                Research Article
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