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The Cost Burden

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania calculated the financial cost of research misconduct, reporting in eLife that papers retracted due to misconduct between 1992 and 2012 represented less than 1 percent of the US National Institutes of Health budget for that timeframe.

Ferric Fang and his colleagues studied papers published between 1992 and 2012 that were retracted due to research misconduct — the vast majority because of data falsification or fabrication — and recorded the NIH grant numbers referenced in footnotes or acknowledgments of those papers. Using those numbers, they looked up the award amounts and calculated the approximate grant cost per article.

Some $47 million in funding supported 149 articles that were retracted due to misconduct, representing, the researchers say, 0.01 percent of the $451.8 billion NIH budget for between 1992 and 2012.

"We found that research misconduct indeed incurs significant financial costs, although the direct financial costs to the NIH were modest when viewed as a fraction of the total research budget," write Fang and his colleagues.

Fang tells Retraction Watch that through this figure was smaller than he and his colleagues expected, "[o]ne could say that any dollar spent on fraudulent research is a dollar too many." Additionally, he notes that there are costs of retractions such as damage to careers of colleagues that were uninvolved in the fraud, the cost of investigating fraud, and the ramifications of having incorrect information in the scientific and medical literature.