Research misconduct ‘not as costly as you might think’

Fears about how much research funding is being wasted on fraudulent projects may be overstated.

August 17, 2014

A study, published this week in the open access journal eLife, found that the amount of National Institutes of Health funding associated with papers retracted for misconduct accounted for less than 0.01 per cent of the agency’s total budget between 1992 and 2012.

The study was carried out by four authors, including Ferric Fang, professor of microbiology at the University of Washington, and Arturo Casadevall, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. Previous investigations by these two authors have revealed that retractions have shot up over the past two decades, especially in high-profile journals, and that most retractions are the result of misconduct.

But their latest paper finds that misconduct rulings by the Office of Research Integrity - which led to 149 retractions between 1992 and 2012 - accounted for just $47 million (£28 million) of NIH funding, compared to a total spend of $452 billion.

The paper admits that misconduct may be far more widespread than the detection rate suggests. But even if only 1 per cent is detected, the cost of funding fraudulent work would still only amount to about 1.5 per cent of the NIH’s total budget.

“In our view, this is still a relatively low number, suggesting that research misconduct does not involve a large percentage of research funding in the US,” the authors say.

However, they note that their analysis does not include other costs of misconduct, such as that of running investigations, damage to the reputation of institutions and lab members, unproductive research by other scientists who have based their work on retracted publications and “preventable illness or the loss of human life due to misinformation in the medical literature”

The paper also finds that researchers found guilty of misconduct typically – though not always – see their funding and publication output subsequently plummet.

This suggests that “an instance of misconduct is not necessarily a career-ending event”, they say.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

PhD Scholar in Medicine

University Of Queensland

Manager, Research Systems and Performance

Auckland University Of Technology

Lecturer in Aboriginal Allied Health

University Of South Australia

Lecturer, School of Nursing & Midwifery

Western Sydney University

College General Manager, SHE

La Trobe University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham