I was completely unaware of this, but apparently cases of academic misconduct, as evidenced by the retraction of papers from journals and other publication venues, have been on the rise.
According to the article, retractions from journals in the PubMed database have increased by a factor of 60 over ten years, from 3 in 2000 to 180 in 2009. That’s insane!
What’s going on, then? I suspect one or more of the following:
One caveat: this result derives from PubMed, which primarily includes medical and pharmaceutical research, as well as some auxiliary technology and basic science. Does this pattern of misconduct apply in other fields, or is it particular to medicine?
Improved review processes are necessary, but it’s not clear how quickly change will come. Problems with peer review have been acknowledged for more than 20 years, with a report from 1990 showing that only 8% of members of the Scientific Research Society considered it effective as is. Despite this, in most venues, peer review functions the same way it always has.
There may be some movement, however. CHI, for example, includes the alt.chi track in which research is reviewed in a public forum before selection by a jury, which seems to offer a good compromise between open and free criticism, and peer-driven moderation. There’s also a special conference coming up entitled “Evaluating Research and Peer Review – Problems and Possible Solutions” – it was the Call for Papers for this that got me writing this post.
From my perspective, an ideal research review system would at least:
What else should a review system incorporate? How could such a system fail? Why might it not be adopted?
Update 2012-05-09: It’s not clear whether the aforementioned study relied on the same set of journals each year, or whether they used the full PubMed database each year. It’s probable that the PubMed mix has changed over the decade; for example, the NIH’s public access policy requiring publicly funded research be placed into PubMed was trialed in 2005, and made mandatory in 2008.