There's been a lot of talk lately about the problem of research fraud and whether it stems from increased misconduct or because other researchers are getting better at catching it. At the Guardian, Brian Deer says some of these alleged fraudsters may deserve the sympathy of their colleagues, not their enmity. Deer singles out Peter Francis, who applied for a grant using fabricated data, was caught by his university, and was investigated by the US Office of Research Integrity. Francis admitted what he did and for two years, his grant applications will be supervised and vetted before they're submitted, Deer says. "With the luxury of reflection, the knee-jerk reaction is misguided. Francis didn't deserve a perp walk. He was a victim," Deer adds.
In Francis' world, Deer says, data is easily "fiddled" with and fraud is underreported. Given that atmosphere, "a rational researcher might conclude: 'I'm forced to do the same.' The alternative is to lag behind and lose out," he adds. So Francis may have felt he was forced to do what he did to be able to compete. "The remedy, in my view, will begin with recognizing a truth: that science isn't particularly special, or specially honest," Deer says. "So I say: level the playing field with research police and lab inspections, so those like Francis can relax rather than cheat."