Monday, December 24, 2012

CrayonEater Sends in This Link From HuffPo.

Science Retractions: Top 5 Withdrawn Studies Of 2012

When you read about medical breakthroughs in the newspapers, you shouldn't get your hopes up. This is not because of journalistic hyperbole or even the fact that cures often are years away from the initial publication of result.
It seems that an increasing number of scientific studies are just plain wrong and are ultimately retracted. Worse, a study published in October 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (uh, if it's true) claims that the majority of retractions are due to some type of misconduct, and not honest mistakes, as long assumed.
The blog Retraction Watch tracks such retractions and has notified its readers of hundreds of journal-article withdrawals in 2012 alone. The king of retractions, according to Retraction Watch, is Japanese anesthesiologist Yoshitaka Fujii, who falsified data in 172 of 212 of his papers published between 1993 and 2011. All of this came to light in 2012. [See Last Year's Biggest Science Retractions]


  1. How dare those rascal scientists (I'm using the standard Hare Krishna lingo here) squander public funding and ever not be 100% true (I'm using the lingo of another streetcorner preacher here)! If their budget were cut to zero, it would sure serve them right, and the rest of us could all go back to faith healing.

    This article is a very cheap shot, since it gives the reader no indication of how common scientific error or misconduct really are. Only in the one article given as a source is that misconduct is up, from 1 in 100,000 papers a generation ago, to 1 in 10,000 papers now. Imagine if any other field of human endeavor, such as politics, met either standard!

    But then, it's a Huffpo article. A student of mine recently complained to me about how a story of theirs on the Higgs boson didn't make much sense. I told him, "Their science coverage is terrible. But then, what do you expect from a news source that runs all the girly pictures that they do?"

  2. Frod, you make a good point that compared to people in other professions, especially those who point the accusatory finger at us, scientific ethics remain pretty strong.

    Still, an order of magnitude increase along with the higher number of publications written each year is troubling. There seems to be more pressure than ever to publish and get grants. I wonder how this breaks down by country, or better yet, country of origin for the scientist. I've found plagiarism and misconduct are pretty common for both foreign and domestic undergrads but we've only had problems like this with our graduate students from foreign countries. Thankfully, it's all be in their class work, not their research.

    1. But with events this rare, one needs to look just as hard at how the statistics were measured as at anything they claim to measure. I know a scientist who makes a good living by scaring people by saying, "Fund my research, or you will be creamed by an asteroid, just like the dinosaurs!" I think it's just awful: and what really impresses me is how he pulls this off without even having to wear a sandwich board.


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