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Report: Mistakes On The Rise In Scientific Studies 06:29
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Federal investigators have announced that a former Boston University cancer researcher fabricated data that appeared in papers published in two scientific journals.

Sheng Wang worked at the BU Medical School Cancer Research center until last month. He agreed to retract the two papers, which were originally published in 2009 and looked at how molecular biology might be used to help treat cancer.

Wang's case is only the latest example in what's become a troubling trend in the field of academic research: the rise in retractions due to either human error, lapses in the peer review system, or in some cases, fraud.

A report in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal found that in 2001, scientific journals issued 22 retraction notices. That number jumped to almost 340 in 2010 — a more than a 90 percent increase.

One reason for the rise is that there are more academic journals and papers being published, Gautam Naik, who wrote about the jump in retractions for the Wall Street Journal, told Radio Boston. Still, he said, even when you account for that, the rate at which retractions are being issued is still far higher than the rate at which new journals and papers are being released.

"One of the very likely reasons is that there's more spurious science," Naik said.

Moreover, Naik said, researchers and journals are feeling more and more pressure to publish headline-grabbing studies.

"You have a lot more researchers chasing a smaller amount of money and positions in universities and other institutions and that competitiveness could be spurring this increase in retractions," Naik said.

Guest:

  • Gautam Naik, science reporter, The Wall Street Journal

This segment aired on August 10, 2011.

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