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."