Science research called 'dysfunctional'

March 27, 2012 at 9:26 PM

WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- The increasing number of retractions in scientific journals is a symptom of dysfunction in the world of biomedical research, a scientist told a U.S. committee.

Ferric Fang, editor-in-chief of the journal Infection and Immunity, and Arturo Casadevall, editor-in -chief of mBio, both organs of the American Society for Microbiology, appeared Tuesday before a committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Incentives have evolved over the decades to encourage some behaviors that are detrimental to good science," Fang told a meeting of the Committee of Science, Technology and Law of the NAS.

In the past decade, the number of retraction notices for scientific journals has increased more than ten-fold while the number of journals articles published has only increased by 44 percent, the committee heard.

Some retractions are due to simple error but many are a result of misconduct, including falsification of data and plagiarism, a release from the American Society for Microbiology said.

Driving the problem is an economic incentive system that has created a hypercompetitive environment that encourages poor scientific practices, including misconduct, Fang and Casadevall said.

Too many researchers are competing for too little funding, creating a survival-of-the-fittest, winner-take-all environment where researchers increasingly feel pressure to publish, especially in high-prestige journals, they said.

"The surest ticket to getting a grant or job is getting published in a high profile journal," Fang said. "This is an unhealthy belief that can lead a scientist to engage in sensationalism and sometimes even dishonest behavior to salvage their career."

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