When it comes to credible sources, nothing appears more authoritative than research done at the highest levels of education. The work that professors spend most of their careers doing takes hours upon hours of studying, backtracking, breakthroughs, and in some cases heartbreak as the frustrations and pressures of being a high-level researcher lead some to reaching for the spotlight for the sake of adding something to a community that functions like a business.
And here lies the bigger issue. Research fraud is seemingly becoming more and more common. For example, in 2012, a paper in the British Medical Journal found that 13 percent of UK-based scientists saw their peers change research data before publication in peer-reviewed journals.
For some, this number does seem that big until one realizes that the average biomedical paper gets cited ten to twenty times every five years. In turn, the same peer-reviewed papers that doctors use to potentially base their prescriptions on could have fabricated data.
Then the question becomes, why? If people spend so long becoming masters of their craft, why potentially risk it all for the sake of one published paper?
The simple answer, money.
As mentioned earlier, the scientific community has slowly become somewhat of a business where if you want to keep your job, then you’re going to have to produce the results. This pressure causes millions of papers being published every year that run the risk to be based on faulty statistics.
Plus, when it comes to professors, the payoffs are evident as some universities will pay up to $2000 for each paper published in a scientific journal, and publishers, like the Business and Economics Research Journal, will pay nearly $500 for each peer review.
At the same time, the incentive for altering university-level research exists because it’s potentially easy to get away with. For example, almost 90% of biomedical research fraud cases in the United States are dismissed by universities and other research institutes. After all, in the case of universities, money is made through their image and prestige.
As a result, universities across America are sweeping research fraud under the rug for the sake of their brand and the prestige of producing groundbreaking results, and the faculty who commit the fraud face no repercussions.
This act of silencing is by no means uncommon as in 2013 a cancer researcher at Duke University fabricated seven years’ worth of data in order to earn federal grants for the university. The worst part? A medical student who caught wind of the fraud two years before it became public was silenced by multiple deans at the school.
Another case from Florida State University shows similar results. A criminology professor published three papers based off of 2013 survey data that when pressed by a colleague to show existed failed to produce it. After the professor claimed it was done by the Research Network, an organization that closed in 2010, people began to ask questions.
What did Florida State University do in response to these allegations? It dismissed the need for a full investigation and breached their own investigation procedures by never asking the professor for the 2013 survey data. Furthermore, they broke another procedure by allowing two members of the committee to investigate this case despite them co-authoring with the original criminology professor.
This conflict of interest is at the heart of university research fraud, and it doesn’t appear that this problem will go away anytime soon as the benefits of producing results outweigh the losses of getting caught, especially when institutions are willing to ignore blatant fraud for the sake of their image.