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[ Industry trends ] September 14, 2022

Fraud in research and the tangible cost of retractions

The rate of papers retracted by journals due to research misconduct first spiked in the early 2000s and continues to rise. Now, websites like Retraction Watch provide public updates on the latest instances of scientific fraud that can threaten the prestige of scholarly publications. But journals stand to lose more than their name due to retractions. What are the true costs of bad science and how can publishers avoid them?

Financial Costs

In the academic community  reputation is everything. Retractions severely damage the prestige of scholarly publications, leading to fewer citations, lower impact factors, and fewer submissions. When researchers join an organization, they come with the hope of finding a space to create and discover high-quality scientific findings. 

But when trust and credibility are lost, readership and member retention rates fall. This not only affects the expansion of an organization’s community, but also the growth of the organization itself, causing declines in revenue streams and limiting future possibilities like corporate sponsorships. Imagine what kind of talented members, cutting-edge breakthroughs, and exciting partnerships an organization can miss out on all due to a wounded image.

What’s more, in addition to the wasted funding from the  institutional body who chose to finance the retracted research, organizations or publishers often have to pay for the consequences of sharing misinformation.

When research is published, scientists, healthcare professionals, and the general public consult these findings when developing theories, providing medical advice, and simply living their lives. This means that when misconduct occurs, the victims can resort to lawsuits or call for investigations into allegations of fraud, which can be costly for the publication or academic institution involved.

 

Time Costs

While a single retraction won’t permanently damage an organization’s reputation, one thing that we can never get back is lost time. The editing and peer reviewing process that goes into validating each published article requires efficient workflows along with care, focus, and attention to detail. When these resources and human efforts are wasted on fraudulent research instead of legitimate findings, the scholarly community suffers due to this misspent labor.

Even further, valuable time is also lost for the researchers and institutions who depend on information published in scholarly journals and build their discoveries on research before it is retracted, with scientists having to alter or even disregard their later work.

 

Societal Costs

In addition to wasted time and unnecessary expenses, retracted research poses a great threat to the scholarly world when one considers the effect it can have on individuals.

For instance, the ‘pressure to publish’ and demand for fast-paced sharing of scientific information only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the scientific community sought to fight the emerging virus, another insidious disease grew in the form of fraudulent research practices. Several high-profile cases of research misconduct and subsequent retractions proliferated. 

In one particular case, a study in The Lancet claimed that COVID patients who received an antimalarial drug were more likely to die than those who did not. Yet, it later became clear that these records were falsified, with the hospitals who supposedly participated in the trials claiming they had never even heard of Surgisphere, the company conducting the study. Despite the article’s retraction, one can only imagine how many individuals may have altered their medication habits, how many ongoing clinical trials were halted, and how warped the scientific and public understanding COVID became due to rogue research.

 

Conclusion

Retractions seem to be an easy fix for journals looking to erase oversights, but in reality the impact of fraudulent research on an organization's credibility, finances, and the broader scientific community is nearly impossible to undo.

With Morressier’s innovative Peer Review Workflows, you can avoid the costs and hassles that come with research misconduct and ensure that only trustworthy science gets disseminated.

What’s more, you don’t have to sacrifice speed and efficiency to uphold honest and rigorous scientific practices. Our built-in integrity checks flag documents when authors submit them so that editors can be aware of issues earlier on in the process for better quality content and faster sharing.

Join our webinar on integrity across the research lifecycle to learn more.