We have previously looked at dishonesty in research and the corruption in modern science (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” , and “Why Would any Scientist ever Cheat?” ). Unethical conduct by university scientists is driven by their constant large job pressures to obtain more grant awards and to publish more research reports. The hyper-competition for acquiring research grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ) actually is the major cause for cheating on applications for research grants by today’s faculty scientists.
Corruption and dishonesty in science commonly are thought to be very infrequent. Due to the great difficulty in detecting and proving dishonesty, the actual number of miscreants remains quite unknown. Nevertheless, new cases of proven misconduct by research scientists continue to pop up every year. Today’s article examines yet another newer kind of dishonesty and corruption in modern science.
How do scientists publish the results of their research studies?
Traditionally, scientists compose research reports after finishing the analysis of their experimental data, and then submit this manuscript to a professional science journal. The journal editor, who is usually a renowned senior scientist, (1) supervises the peer review of each manuscript, comprising a critical examination by several selected expert referees (i.e., other knowledgeable scientists), (2) decides about publication, rejection, or required revision, and (3) later notifies the submitting author of the final decision. This critical review functions to prevent publication of poor or false data, misleading or incorrect statements, mistakes, and unwarranted conclusions. The process of manuscript revision permits authors to add missing items, remove extraneous or incorrect content, correct other mistakes, and, respond to questions and criticisms from the reviewers and the editor. The ultimate role of the journal editor is to safeguard science and research.
Background to dishonesty with publishing scientific research results in journals.
Science journals and publishers, as well as scientists, have established requirements for this publication process, so it is as objective and honest as is humanly possible. These standards now include requiring explicit statements by the author(s) about possible conflicts of interest or financial involvements, and the actual work done by each listed co-author. Some science journals also require a pledge of originality, certain statistical testing of research data in the manuscript, presentation or availability of all the experimental data, etc. This publication system mostly has seemed to work quite well for preventing dishonesty by scientist authors, but it must be suspected that many instances of dishonesty remain undetected. Certainly, some big mistakes in examining and publishing science manuscripts do continue to occur (see: “A Final Judgment is Given to Dr. Haruko Obokata: Misconduct of Research!” ).
Dishonesty in the publication process for research reports recently has been highlighted as involving the many conflicts of interest in the critical reviewing of submitted manuscripts [e.g., 1-6]. The total integrity of the expert referees always has previously been assumed, and several reviewers are assigned to examine each manuscript. However, incidents now have been uncovered where the appointed referees included some who had a known or hidden association with the author(s); other recent cases show involvement of false reviews and of commercial concerns that supply these [e.g., 1,5,6]. The peer review of manuscripts is designed to prevent fraud, mistakes, inadequacies, and misleading conclusions from being published. When scholarly reviews are compromised, independent and honest judgments of science manuscripts by journal publishers could not be conducted.
Cheating in the review of manuscripts is difficult to detect unless someone blows the whistle, or some other expert happens to spot a specific error or hidden conflict of interest and has the guts to make official inquiries. In some of the recently revealed cases, the compromised evaluation of manuscripts appears to have been undertaken intentionally in an organized deceitful manner [e.g., 4-6]. Increasing concern about unethical manipulation of the publication process has resulted from high numbers of retractions of published articles and revision of standards for getting scientific research results published [e.g., 5,6]. Any manipulation of the manuscript evaluation process is completely unacceptable because that permits bad data, false data, wrong statements, and unwarranted conclusions to be published, thereby undermining the very integrity of science. Any scientist, including journal referees, can make an honest mistake in judgment, but a positively- or negatively-biased review of a manuscript is not some mistake, and is itself a misconduct.
Dishonesty in publishing medical research reports.
Journals publishing clinical research results seem to draw more attention to problems in the manuscript review process [e.g., 1-4], and could be more frequently compromised than journals publishing research results from basic science. This is unavoidable due to the unavoidable involvement of the medical journals with the financial interests of big pharmaceutical companies. Medical science journals publishing results from clinical research about new treatments and new pharmaceutical agents have long been trying to ensure that they are extra careful in reviewing manuscripts. This is particularly so where scientists working at pharmaceutical research labs, or research physicians in medical schools and hospitals, are authoring a science report about clinical trials where new agents are investigated and evaluated. Following the later review and approval by federal regulators, decisions about publication in clinical journals make a big difference for the amount of future usage of these agents by practicing physicians; publication of such reports thereby has a strong influence in determining the size of the manufacturer’s profits from sales.
Cheating in clinical science journals [2-4] involves manuscript reviewers who knowingly ignore or do not intercept data that is questionable and conclusions that are unwarranted by the data shown. Positively-biased peer reviewers who recommend immediate publication with no changes required, negate the entire purpose of the manuscript review process. Such dishonesty on manuscript reviews for clinical journals might well be more common than anyone has ever dared to think. Two very experienced and well-known editors of the most totally prestigious medical journals recently issued amazing statements that they believe this type of cheating is very frequent. Dr. Marcia Angell, ,former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, wrote in 2009, “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published … ” . Dr. Richard Horton, current Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, wrote in 2015, “… much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” . Both these dramatic statements are truly shocking! If the manuscript review process really is so flawed and manipulated as is proposed by 2 very experienced editors, then it is likely that many manuscript referees themselves must be actively dishonest participants in fraudulent science.
The recent explicit statements made by very renowned editors of 2 top medical science journals [2,3] make it shockingly obvious that cheating by scientific researchers might be very much more frequent than anyone has previously guessed. For university research scientists, this unethical conduct mostly is stimulated by their very strong job pressures; for medical research scientists, this unethical conduct mainly is stimulated by hopes for financial gain. Both situations are improper, and are very bad for science and research. The holes created by multiple conflicts of interest in publishing of science journals must be plugged.
The ultimate basis for all dishonesty in science is normal human nature. That fact makes it especially difficult to stop or eliminate this behavioral problem (see: “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists” ). Only the most sincere personal dedication by scientists to total honesty (i.e., via more intense education about ethics), much more vigorous efforts to detect cheating and dishonesty (i.e., by journals and granting agencies), and, much harsher penalties for proven misconduct (i.e., from the employers and granting agencies) can give hope that unethical conduct by professional scientists can be lessened and even stopped.
 H. Marcovitch, 2010. Editors, publishers, impact factors, and reprint income. PLoS Med., e1000355. Available on the internet at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2964337/ .
 M. Angell, 2009. Drug companies & doctors: A story of corruption. The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009 issue. Available on the internet at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jan/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-study-of-corruption/ .
 R. Horton, 2015. Offline: what is medicines 5 sigma? The Lancet, April 11, 2015 385:1380. Available on the internet at: http://www.thelancet.com .
 A. Walia, 2015. Editor in chief of world’s best known medical journal: half of all the literature is false. Global Research, May 23, 2015. Available on the internet at: http://www.global research.ca/editor-in-chief-of-worlds-best-known-medical-journal-half-of-all-the-literature-is-false/5451305 .
 F. Barbash, 2015. Major publisher retracts 43 scientific papers amid wider peer-review scandal. The Washington Post, Morning Mix, March 27, 2015. Available on the internet at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/27/fabricated-peer-reviews-prompt-scientific-journal-to-retract-43-papers-systematic-scheme-may-affect-other-journals/ .
 J. Achenbach for the Washington Post, 2015. Scandals prompt return to peer review and reproducible experiments. The Guardian, February 7, 2015. Available on the internet at: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/07/scientific-research-peer-review-reproducing-data .
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