And some 53 percent of faked research papers had been written by a "repeat offender," that is, an author who had multiple papers withdrawn due to falsehoods. Authors who had papers retracted due to error were less likely than fakers to be repeat offenders, with only about 18 percent having more than one paper withdrawn due to error.
Some of the most notorious cases of fraudulent research cited in the paper included work by Hwang Woo-Suk, a South Korean researcher who, in 2004 and 2005, published two papers in the journal Science in which he reported creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Both papers were later retracted after they were found to be largely fabricated.
In another case, Dr. Scott Reuben, an anesthesiologist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., had 13 papers retracted after it was discovered he had fabricated research on postoperative pain medications, particularly the use of celecoxib (Celebrex) and pregabalin (Lyrica).
So why do they do it?
Within academia, researchers can feel pressure to get published in influential journals to secure promotions, get tenure and get more grant money to continue their research, explained David Prentice, a medical ethics expert and senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council.
But not only is lying about data unethical and potentially harmful to patients, it's also self-destructive. When researchers publish a finding, it becomes part of the public record, and other researchers will try to replicate the finding, especially if the original study made a splash.
"As soon as others can't verify what is going on, the doubt comes in," Prentice said. "Inevitably, they are going to be discovered. The short-term success they achieve is ultimately going to lead to long-term failure."
Faked research papers were significantly more likely to have multiple authors, perhaps because it's easier to disguise fraud when each author is aware of
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