July 10, 2009

The truth will out


Nature Physics 5, 449 (2009)

Fraud in science is difficult to spot immediately, but, as high-profile cases show, it does get found out. Tackling plagiarism is at least becoming an easier fight.

Scientific misconduct comes in many forms. Fabrication lies at one extreme, but plagiarism and 'citation amnesia' are more common. Some have come to question the peer review system, especially following the spectacular cases of Hendrik Schön and Scott Reubens. Schön was a Bell Labs researcher whose organic field-effect transistors exhibited the fractional quantum Hall effect, superconductivity, lasing, you name it. That he didn't keep a lab book or any raw data during his PhD would already constitute bad practice, but then he went on to actually fabricate data. In 2002, a committee found him guilty of scientific misconduct on 16 out of 24 allegations, and at least 21 of his published papers have since been retracted (a new book chronicling Schön's rise and fall is reviewed on p451 of this issue). Reuben's case came to light in March 2009, when 21 of his papers containing faked data were retracted from anaesthesiology journals. Millions of patients have been treated according to his studies of combinations of drugs for pain relief. In many cases, the patients in his clinical trials were made up. >>>


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