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In the Face of Competition

The increasingly competitive funding atmosphere "breeds unethical behavior," writes James Hicks, a physiologist at the University of California, Irvine, in an opinion piece at The Scientist.

Hicks charts funding success rates at the US National Institutes of Health versus the number of retracted papers and says that "we have reached such a threshold: when only around 20 percent of grants are funded, the numbers of retractions skyrockets."

At his blog, Drug Monkey says the chart appears "truthy." However, "[n]obody knows if increased retraction rates over time are being observed because fraud is up or because detection is up," he says, adding that "since NIH grant success rates have likewise been plummeting as a function of Fiscal Year, the relationship is confounded."

Richard Van Noorden ‏at Spare Thoughts offers a different chart that examines NIH success rate versus retracted papers, but that divvies the data up by total retracted publications, retracted publication from the US, and retracted publication supported by NIH or the Public Health Service.

"You will see that there is little correlation between NIH success rates and retracted US publications or retracted papers with PHS support/NIH extramural support," Van Noorden writes, though he notes that there is a correlation between success rate and total retracted publications.

"[W]e probably won't find out until, say, 2015, whether squeezed NIH success rates in 2011 and 2012 led to a higher number of retracted NIH-funded or US (or even world) papers," he adds. "So maybe we'll find out that it did. I'm not holding my breath."