One of the complaints we often hear about the self-correcting nature of science is that authors and editors seem very reluctant to retract papers with obvious fatal flaws. Indeed, it seems fairly clear that the number of papers retracted is smaller than the number of those that should be.
To try to get a sense of how errors are corrected in the literature, Arturo Casadevall, Grant Steen, and Ferric Fang, whose work on retractions will be familiar to our readers, in a new paper in the FASEB Journal, look at the sources of error in papers retracted for reasons other than misconduct.
The title of this post is the title of a new study in PLOS ONE by three researchers whose names Retraction Watch readers may find familiar: Grant Steen, Arturo Casadevall, and Ferric Fang. Together and separately, they’ve examined retraction trends in a number of papers we’ve covered.
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.
The study of 2,047 retractions in biomedical and life-science research articles in PubMed from 1973 until May 3, 2012 brings together three retraction researchers whose names may be familiar to Retraction Watch readers: Ferric Fang, Grant Steen, and Arturo Casadevall. Fang and Casadevall have published together, including on their Retraction Index, but this is the first paper by the trio.
Japanese investigators have concluded that Yoshitaka Fujii, an expert in postoperative nausea and vomiting whose findings drew scrutiny in 2000 but who continued to publish prolifically for a decade after, fabricated his results in at least 172 published studies.
That number nearly doubles that of the current unofficial retraction record holder, Joachim Boldt.
An inquiry by the Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists (JSA) has determined that Fujii, who was fired in February from his post at Toho University, falsified data in 172 of 212 papers published between 1993 and 2011. Investigators said they found no evidence of fraud in three of the papers, but could not determine whether the results reported in the remaining 37 were reliable.
As readers of this blog have no doubt sensed by now, the number of retractions per year seems to be on the rise. We feel that intuitively as we uncover more and more of them, but there are also data to suggest this is true.
As if to demonstrate that, we’ve been trying to find time to write this post for more than a week, since the author of the study we’ll discuss sent us his paper. Writing about all the retractions we learned about, however, kept us too busy.
The title of this post is a question that we’ve been asking ourselves since we started Retraction Watch in August, and that others have asked us since. And we’ve gotten different answers depending where we look:
In our first post, we cited a study that found 328 retractions in Medline in the decade from 1995 to 2004.