Regular Retraction Watch readers may find the name Grant Steen familiar. Steen has published a number of important papers on retractions, most recently in PNAS. Recently, he approached us for help with what sounds like another project that is likely to increase our understanding of misconduct in science: Steen wants to gather the stories of those involved in fraud. We’re happy to present his explanation of the project, and his requests:
Why is there fraud in science?
Scientists believe—or at least profess to believe—that science is a process of iteratively approaching Truth. Failed experiments are supposed to serve as fodder for successful experiments, so that clouded thinking can be clarified. Observations that are fundamentally true are thought to find support, while observations that are flawed in some way are supplanted by better observations.
Why then would anyone think that scientific fraud can succeed? Fraud would seem to be intellectual pyrotechnics; a dazzling light that leaves us in darkness. If science truly is self-correcting, then why would people risk perpetrating fraud? The notion of self-correction suggests that fraud is certain to be found out. Why risk it? Or are most scientists wrong? Does science often fail to self-correct? Is the literature full of misinformation, left behind like landmines in an abandoned battlefield?
What is the rationale for data fabrication and data falsification? We invite anyone who has been involved in a scientific retraction due to fraud, or otherwise implicated in scientific misconduct, to write an essay for inclusion in a projected book about scientific fraud. Essays are solicited from people who were involved as either a perpetrator or a co-author. It is vital that this account be written from a personal perspective. Please limit speculation and stick to verifiable facts insofar as possible, so that future historians can learn what actually happened. Please do not discuss retractions that resulted from an honest scientific mistake, and do not dwell on transgressions such as plagiarism, duplicate publication, or co-author squabbles. Discussion should focus primarily on data fabrication and data falsification. We are especially interested in first-person accounts that relate to any (or all) of the following questions:
- What actually happened?
- What is the scientific story behind the transgression?
- How did you (or a colleague) fabricate or falsify data?
- What was the short- or long-term goal of the deception?
- Did you perceive any significant obstacles to fabrication or falsification?
- Did the research infrastructure fail in any way?
- How was the fraud discovered?
- Do you believe that the scientific enterprise was damaged?
- What was the aftermath for you and for your collaborators?
- What are your thoughts and perceptions now?
Please limit your essays to no more than 3,000 words and send them to G_Steen_MediCC@yahoo.com. Be prepared to prove that you are who you claim to be; we will try hard not be taken in by a scam. However, it may be possible to publish the piece anonymously, though this would greatly lessen the impact. If accepted for publication, your work will be edited for clarity only; there will be no censorship, no editorial intrusion, and no correction of what are claimed as facts. However, these essays will become part of a multi-author dialogue about scientific fraud. If a book contract can be secured, each essay will form a chapter in the book. No profits are anticipated, so no financial gain can accrue from the project. However, this is a chance to tell your story on a national stage.