Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The 'Slippery Slope' of Fraud

What leads a researcher down the road to fraud? It's always disturbing when a scientist is caught cheating, writes Ohio State University's Jennifer Crocker in Nature News. Most recently, social psychologist Diederik Stapel of Tilburg University in the Netherlands admitted to fabricating data used in much of his research. "Such cases of outright fraud in science are distressing for many reasons. For example, they damage the careers of students and collaborators, and raise doubts about all papers by the same author," Crocker says. "Most importantly, they damage public trust in science and in scientists."

But how does it happen? You would think researchers know falsifying data is wrong, but it usually starts very small and escalates, Crocker says. "By the time such fraud is exposed, bad choices that would usually lead to only minor transgressions have escalated into outright career-killing behavior," she adds. The perfect example is Stanley Milgram's work in the 1960s which showed how easy it is for people to start on the "slippery slope" to doing something wrong and end up betraying everything they consider right, Crocker says. The first tiny step in research fraud — dropping an inconvenient data point or not crediting a co-author — can lead to worse.

"The well-being of science and our society requires that fraud be punished severely. But a heavy focus on fraudsters may also conveniently divert our attention from the fraudster within us all," Crocker says. And since major fraud begins with small steps, she adds, the question becomes, "how can we stop the slide?"

The Scan

Transcriptomic, Epigenetic Study Appears to Explain Anti-Viral Effects of TB Vaccine

Researchers report in Science Advances on an interferon signature and long-term shifts in monocyte cell DNA methylation in Bacille Calmette-Guérin-vaccinated infant samples.

DNA Storage Method Taps Into Gene Editing Technology

With a dual-plasmid system informed by gene editing, researchers re-wrote DNA sequences in E. coli to store Charles Dickens prose over hundreds of generations, as they recount in Science Advances.

Researchers Model Microbiome Dynamics in Effort to Understand Chronic Human Conditions

Investigators demonstrate in PLOS Computational Biology a computational method for following microbiome dynamics in the absence of longitudinally collected samples.

New Study Highlights Role of Genetics in ADHD

Researchers report in Nature Genetics on differences in genetic architecture between ADHD affecting children versus ADHD that persists into adulthood or is diagnosed in adults.