TUESDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that
nearly 800 research papers were retracted by medical journals for
serious errors or faked data over the past decade, many of them
authored by U.S. researchers.
In fact, U.S. scientists were responsible for 169 of the papers
retracted for seemingly inadvertent yet serious errors, as well as
for 84 of the papers retracted for outright fraud, more than any
That doesn't necessarily mean U.S. researchers are more prone to
deception, said study author R. Grant Steen, president of Medical
Communications Consultants in Chapel Hill, N.C., but could perhaps
reflect that U.S.-based researchers publish a larger volume of
English-language medical studies than scientists from other
"We need to be careful," Steen said. "Some scientists perceive a paper in a high-impact journal as a doorway to fame and fortune and some are willing to fake data to walk through that doorway."
The study appears in the Nov. 16 online issue of the
Journal of Medical Ethics.
Steen searched the PubMed database for every scientific research
paper that had been withdrawn from medical journals between 2000
and 2010. Of 788 retractions, he could find a reason for 742 of
them, though the reasons given were sometimes vague.
About three-quarters, or 545, were withdrawn because of serious
errors. The remainder, or 197, were withdrawn due to data
fabrication (manufacturing false data) or falsification (selective
editing of data, such as leaving out findings that don't confirm
the hoped-for result).
After the United States, China came next with 89 total
retractions, including 20 retractions due to fraud. China was
followed by Japan, India, the United Kingdom, South Korea and
Falsified papers were more likely to appear in high-profile,
influential medical journals as opposed to more obscure ones.
And some 53 percent of faked research papers had been written by
a "repeat offender," that is, an author who had multiple papers
withdrawn due to falsehoods. Authors who had papers retracted due
to error were less likely than fakers to be repeat offenders, with
only about 18 percent having more than one paper withdrawn due to
Some of the most notorious cases of fraudulent research cited in
the paper included work by Hwang Woo-Suk, a South Korean researcher
who, in 2004 and 2005, published two papers in the journal
Science in which he reported creating human embryonic stem
cells by cloning. Both papers were later retracted after they were
found to be largely fabricated.
In another case, Dr. Scott Reuben, an anesthesiologist at
Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., had 13 papers
retracted after it was discovered he had fabricated research on
postoperative pain medications, particularly the use of celecoxib
(Celebrex) and pregabalin (Lyrica).
So why do they do it?
Within academia, researchers can feel pressure to get published
in influential journals to secure promotions, get tenure and get
more grant money to continue their research, explained David
Prentice, a medical ethics expert and senior fellow for life
sciences at the Family Research Council.
But not only is lying about data unethical and potentially
harmful to patients, it's also self-destructive. When researchers
publish a finding, it becomes part of the public record, and other
researchers will try to replicate the finding, especially if the
original study made a splash.
"As soon as others can't verify what is going on, the doubt comes in," Prentice said. "Inevitably, they are going to be discovered. The short-term success they achieve is ultimately going to lead to long-term failure."
Faked research papers were significantly more likely to have
multiple authors, perhaps because it's easier to disguise fraud
when each author is aware of only small parts of the research, or
because the blame can be more easily spread, Steen said.
Institutes of Health has more on medical ethics.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.