Scientific fraud: when «publish or perish » leads to the distortion of reality

The increase of scientific frauds and publications that are not reproductible is a major concern that has been analyzed many times. So-called leading journals have more and more retractations, articles considered major and opening up new perspectives are abandoned because based on tampered or “arranged” results, even emanating from prestigious laboratories. These frauds, however, have other consequences than stigmatizing science and the scientists : the pharmaceutical industry suffers as well. Thus, as reported in a well-researched article in Le Monde, major industries like AstraZeneca and Novartis have invested billions to acquire patents and small start-ups that have made major discoveries, before realizing that the data were falsified and the articles retracted. For example, a researcher affiliated with the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center rigged his findings and Pfizer discovered that one of his senior researchers has retouched his images and 7 of his published and proven false articles were removed from the publication. Similarly, GSK realized that a team from its Chinese center had had to remove a publication in the journal Nature because false. All the control structures turned out to be incapable of stopping this bleeding, the reviewers of the articles as well as the experts of the pharmas companies. The reasons are well known: publications in (preferably prestigious) journals open important career opportunities for researchers at a time when impact factors and numerical evaluations are replacing critical article reviews. One can say the same thing for small businesses, as well as for large companies, which, often for stock market evaluation reasons, make loud announcements about innovative treatment discoveries. It can not be repeated enough how the invasion of economic criteria and fashions rots conceptual research and increases public mistrust of its researchers. We must act quickly and publish or die, and some researchers are only imitating the criteria of success that dominate the world today: to make quick operations, to collect important financial means and to free oneself from the yoke of criticism. Basic research as applied research – the two teats of the same approach as Pasteur would say – are united in these malfunctions due to the same causes.

Source : Les laboratoires pharmaceutiques face aux dérapages des chercheurs, Le Monde, 28.10.2017

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