There is a presumption that researchers’ keep their raw data in order, that there are lab journals and notes so that someone else can test the results by duplicating the research. This is not always the case. Sweden and most other countries do not have an adequate system to detect or expose research irregularities. The structure in place in Sweden today does not protect the one reporting of the irregularities or the one who has been suspected of misconduct, particularly well. A doctoral student might not dare to cast suspicion on his/her supervisor in the fear of damaging his/her own career or university does not want to investigate into allegations because it might mean losing research funding.
Often when irregularities in research are uncovered the research publications will be retracted. This means that results from the articles are not to be used in other research. Most of the retractions are done due to plagiarism, serious errors in interpretation of research data, fabricated research data or self plagiarism meaning that big part of text for one’s own previously published research is used without citing that work.
Brian Deer uncovered falsifications in a study into the possible connection between vaccination and autism. The so called Wakefield study had falsified number of things in the research. It took twelve years for The Lancet to retract the article. Deer means that researchers should be controlled like sportsmen: unannounced visits to labs to make sure papers and log books and notes are in order.
The Swedish Research Counsil requires a data publishing plan to be attached to an application for research funding. They would like for the research data to be made openly available for others to have the possibility to use the same data for their project and also because openly available research data might increase citations. This demand brings out another question: might there be even other reasons? Could it be that this is a first step making it easier to control research results against research data and expose research misconduct?
There are voices in Sweden asking for a new system to manage suspicions of research misconduct. One of them is Madeleine Leijonhufvud, a professor in criminal law at the Stockholm University, says that the research world in Sweden is so small, everyone knows everyone, that there is a need to call in experts from abroad when cases of misconduct are investigated.
A database where you can search for retracted articles does not exist but Retraction Watch blog writes about retracted articles. There are a some studies made on retracted articles, .e.g. The persistence of error: a study of retracted article on the Internet and in personal libraries and A Comprehensive Survey of Retracted Articles from the Scholarly Literature. The first one studies articles which have been retracted but are still available online and the second one studied retracted articles from several disciplines, not just within medicine and Life Sciences.
Both of these studies and parts of the research community are demanding ways to educate researches on research ethics but also to discuss more openly retracted literature and also to create better and independent organizations to investigate research misconduct. Maybe we should follow Norway? There you might be sentenced to prison for research misconduct.
Text: Pieta Eklund