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Survey: Scientific Misbehavior Is Common

By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer
Wed Jun 8, 2:07 PM ET

It's not the stuff of headlines, like fraud. But more mundane
misbehavior by scientists is common enough that it may pose an even
greater threat to the integrity of science, a new report asserts.

One-third of scientists surveyed said that within the previous three
years, they'd engaged in at least one practice that would probably
get them into trouble, the report said. Examples included
circumventing minor aspects of rules for doing research on people and
overlooking a colleague's use of flawed data or questionable
interpretation of data.

Such behaviors are "primarily flying below the radar screen right
now," said Brian C. Martinson of the HealthPartners Research
Foundation in Minneapolis, who presents the survey results with
colleagues in a commentary in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Scientists "can no longer remain complacent about such misbehavior,"
the commentary says.

But "I don't think we've been complacent," said Mark S. Frankel,
director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility & Law Program at
the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Frankel, who wasn't involved in the survey, said its results didn't
surprise him. But he said that the survey sampled only a slice of the
scientific community and shouldn't be taken as applying to all
scientists.

The survey included results from 3,247 scientists, roughly 40 percent
of those who were sent the questionnaire in 2002. They were
researchers based in the United States who'd received funding from
the National Institutes of Health. Most were studying biology,
medicine or the social sciences, with others in chemistry and a
smaller group in math, physics or engineering.

Of the 10 practices that Martinson's study described as the most
serious, less than 2 percent of respondents admitted to falsifying
data, plagiarism or ignoring major aspects of rules for conducting
studies with human subjects. But nearly 8 percent said they'd
circumvented what they judged to be minor aspects of such
requirements.

Nearly 13 percent of those who responded said they'd overlooked
"others' use of flawed data or questionable interpretation of data,"
and nearly 16 percent said they had changed the design, methods or
results of a study "in response to pressure from a funding source."

Martinson said the first question referred to other researchers in
their own lab, and the second question referred to pressure from
companies funding their work.

But David Clayton, vice president and chief scientific officer at the
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which focuses on biomedical
research, said he found both questions worded so vaguely that they
could be referring to perfectly acceptable activities.

Clayton also says it's not clear whether the behaviors addressed in
the survey have been increasing or declining over time.

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On the Net:

www.nature.com