One in twelve Belgian medical scientists admits having “made up and/or massaged data”: Survey

001_coverEOSA recently released survey of Belgian scientists suggests that Flemish medical researchers admit to having made up or massaged data more often than their counterparts around their world.

The survey, by the Dutch science magazine Eos with the help of Joeri Tijdink, of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, and the Pascal Decroos Fund for Investigative Journalism, found that

Of the 315 participating scientists, four (1.3%) admit to having made up data at least once in the last three years. If what they say is true, this probably concerns fraud that is still undiscovered. 23 respondents (7.3%) admit to having selectively removed data or results to make research match a hypothesis, so-called ‘data massaging’. Overall, about 8% of the Flemish medical scientists admits to recently having made up and/or massaged data.

Eos compares those figures to those in a meta-analysis by Daniele Fanelli that we often quote, and finds that the Flanders survey paints a worse picture than other studies. Fanelli’s study found that about 2% of scientists in a number of disciplines around the world admitted to faking or massaging data, and that

an average of 14% of the respondents had noticed made up or manipulated data in colleagues’ research. Here, too, Flemish figures are much higher: 47% has witnessed such practices in their direct surroundings or heard about them firsthand.

The survey also tried to pinpoint the reasons for fraud, and pressure to publish came out on top. Read the whole piece here.

Update, 10:30 a.m. Eastern, 3/26/13: Headline corrected from “one in eight” to “one in 12,” reflecting 8%. Apologies for the error.

12 thoughts on “One in twelve Belgian medical scientists admits having “made up and/or massaged data”: Survey”

  1. “If what they say is true”. Not a minor point. I know many people who enjoy providing false information in surveys.

  2. The article cited reports that the response rate to their survey was 12%. It is hard to believe it is representative of medical scientists in Flanders, let alone larger populations of scientists.
    Also, the article notes that the results are being prepared for peer-reviewed publication. I always thought pre-releasing results to the press was a scientific no-no? Maybe this will be retracted.

  3. For comparison with USA,; Titus,et al reported a survey of 4296 scientists who were the recipients of NIH grants in the previous three years.They had 2212 responses ( 51.8 %). 8.7% reported that they observed or had direct evidence of research misconduct.with a total of 265 incidents.They assumed the number would have been higher if they had included post-docs.
    Therefore, most instances are unreported since ORI investigates only approximately 24 cases per year.

    Titus,SL, Wells,JA, Rhoades, LJ, Repairing Research Integrity, Nature 2008, 453:980-982.

    Don Kornfeld

  4. Did you see this ?
    “The Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (FWO) is setting up a task force to tighten controls on the reliability of scientific research in the region, after a scientist from Brussels Free University (VUB) was sacked for falsifying the results of years of research. The pharmacologist, who was working on treatments for epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, received 90% of his funding from the FWO
    March 27 2013
    Any more details of “the scientists from VUB” and what she/he was up to?

    1. There’s only vague information about making stuff up in several Belgian newspapers. Based on those sources we have a partial name (Ralph C.), approximate age (35), and we also know his research area and about the significant FWO funding. Finally, there are newspaper reports he had a prior attachment to the LACDR in Leiden. Based on that I am quite certain it is Ralph Clinkers:
      His name has already disappeared from the EFAR team list (and also from the NEUR, it is not quite clear which team he belonged to; both I guess).

      1. Very interesting – many thanks
        VUB seems strangely silent
        Richard H
        (for google searchers, its Clinckers with a ck,. n.b.)

        1. Apologies for the misspelling!

          Some background information can be found in the following newspaper article (in Dutch)

          Apparently his students reported him after they found data in the literature that they had collected, but noticed it wasn’t quite the same data they actually had collected – it had been altered. Falsified data, that should mean there will be retractions.

          One thing that irks that I don’t understand why they only give the initial of his last name. There’s so much information given on his background that few people will have trouble finding out who it is. The extra information in the newspaper article above includes him getting 90% of his current salary from FWO (he’s 10% professor at VUB, and a FWO postdoc according to the C4N profile, so that brick fits) and his dad being an important public official (there is a Leo Clinckers who has an important function, which would thus also fit).

        2. Hats off to VUB
          “…The Free University of Brussels (VUB) is taking action against scientific
          fraud through lessons on the rules of academic publications during the
          Master’s degree programme. At Bachelor’s and PhD level, students are already
          made aware of the dangers of data manipulation, and now Master’s students will
          learn about specific cases of scientific fraud and the importance of correct
          citations. The plan is to establish a separate course, but it is uncertain
          when it will be introduced. At the end of last month, a VUB professor in
          pharmacology was fired because he manipulated research results. …”

          1. The administrators of the Free University of Brussels should be aware of the limited effectiveness of such courses in the prevention of research misconduct. Their students will likely benefit from acquiring good research practices,e.g,,accepted methods of recording research data, the appropriate use of human subjects and,rules for the assignment of authorship. However, such a course cannot be expected to reduce the likelihood of their later engaging in research misconduct.since fabrication and falsification of data and plagiarism are equivalent to lying, cheating and stealing, behavior which these young adults should have learned were forbidden as children.

            What is more likely to be effective is the provision of adequate mentors for their trainees and meaningful protection for whistleblowers. Unfortunately, it is easier and less expensive for institutions to offer a course..


      2. First it was pharmacology plagiarism at VUB; now its criminology plagiarism at VUB.
        From yesterdays “News in brief (05/June/2013)” in flanders Today:-

        “Authorities at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) have stripped a graduate of his 2005 doctorate after allegations of plagiarism. The man, who now lectures in criminology at Groningen university in the Netherlands, has also been suspended from his post there while an investigation continues.”

  5. Update 2013 October 23:-
    In English at

    “Flemish Commission for Scientific Integrity offers assistance to universities

    “Flemish universities have joined together to establish a Flemish Commission for Scientific Integrity. The commission will offer a second opinion in cases of scientific fraud at local institutions and knowledge centres and will also offer advice on more general questions of scientific integrity. The commission plans to become an expertise centre on research fraud and hopes to stimulate open, frank discussion of the problem.


    In Dutch at

    “Vlaamse Commissie Wetenschappelijke Integriteit van start

    “Interuniversitaire commissie kijkt toe op wetenschapsfraude en geeft nodige adviezen

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