A recent article published in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics presents the results of a national survey conducted in 2018 for the project “Research Integrity in Norway” about scientific fraud.

A total of 7,291 responses were obtained in a questionnaire sent out to 31,206 Norwegian researchers, and the prevalence of certain fraudulent attitudes and practices in research was analyzed, including fabrication, falsification and plagiarism (FFP) in scientific output.

The authors found a relatively low percentage of self-reported FFPs (0.2-0.3%), i.e. recognized by the researchers themselves, while the number of researchers who admitted to having committed a “questionable research practice” (QRP) during the last three years reached an alarming 40%.

The article also presents a ranking of the perceived severity of FFPs and QRPs among Norwegian researchers, who for the most part consider FFP in scientific papers to be more troubling.

With regard to fabrication and falsification, one finding worth mentioning is that the percentage of researchers who admitted to having engaged in one of these practices is somewhat lower than that reported in other international studies and meta-analyses, although, in general, the differences in the prevalence of fraud are not significant, ranging between 0.2% and 1.06%.

Nevertheless, the magnitude of these worrisome data should not be underestimated: “We consider this a significant potential danger to the integrity and trustworthiness of science”, say the authors.

In light of these findings and their impact on the scientific quality of research in Norway in the three years analyzed, the authors say they have serious doubts about the effectiveness of the Norwegian Research Ethics Act and other measures implemented to improve ethics in research. Moreover, matters do not seem to have improved with respect to the data presented in papers published two decades ago.

Bioethical assessment

As we previously published, the complex issue of the existence of fraud in scientific research and publication is due to many factors, among which the following should be mentioned:

-Pressure towards scientific publication by researchers who need to progress in their professional development, largely dependent on their volume of publications, especially in high-impact media.

-Poor bioethics training of research teams in universities and institutions, which facilitates the spread of fraud.

-Highly competitive institutions and researchers who aspire to improve their visibility and prestige, largely dependent on the number of publications in prestigious journals.

-Proliferation of so-called “predatory journals” that facilitate the publication of papers without the required rigor in the peer review and evaluation process, generally in exchange for the payment of large sums by researchers to ensure publication.

Once again, the lack of sound ethics training of researchers and those responsible for the evaluation of scientific papers is an outstanding issue in the education of all scientists.

Well-founded Bioethics is emerging as the common thread that must accompany the scientist in their journey of research specialization, so that their capacity and effort can ultimately contribute to human progress, from honesty and quality in research, preparing them not only to resist the temptation to commit fraud under the guise of improving their personal or professional advancement or visibility, but also to prevent it and report it when it occurs.

Julio Tudela

Bioethics Observatory- Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia

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