The number of retractions is way below the level at which they should be occurring. Vested self-interest of authors, institutions and journals mean that where we should have a retraction, we have a correction. These are not corrections of mistakes, but of misconduct/fraud. If our undergraduate students produce work of this sort, they get a zero. We should also consider the effect on our graduate students and postdocs. Out comes a paper in their field, they read it and get totally depressed. Why? Because some fraudster has got a paper in a “major” journal (aka one that guarantees a thesis or a tenured position) and it is clearly wrong, e.g., re-used data, copied and pasted, for different experimental conditions. Some years later they may see a “correction”. What do they do? Stay in science, remaining true to the messiness of data, become tempted to cheat or leave through disillusion? We are killing off the lifeblood of science through pandering to vested self-interest and turning a blind eye to corruption.
This is an issue of corruption. This is the correct word to use.
There is only one cure, democracy. This means openness and transparency. I publish a paper, you have access to the raw data and are free to comment on it. If the paper is flawed, then it is retracted. If someone is incompetent, so they can talk, but actually have no understanding of the experiment, then they will find they have no place in science. We are a long way from that, but moving towards it, slowly.
While many keep their heads below the parapet and a significant number practice fraud, a growing number of people are taking action in various ways.
Below, some interesting recent posts I have come across on the problem science faces with misconduct and fraud.
Curt Rice has an excellent post on “Why you can’t trust the quality of science”
More recently, Amanda Alvarez has a post on “Steering clear of the iceberg: three ways we can fix the data-credibility crisis in science”
Finally, for those lovers of irony, a recent post on Retraction Watch regarding a “Mega Correction“. The correction is from a researcher whose legal threats closed Science Fraud. If you don’t think there is a problem, read the post at Retraction Watch and look at the paper concerned.