A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that more than two-thirds of 2,000 retractions in the life science literature were attributable to some form of misconduct, including fraud, duplicate publication, and plagiarism.
The study, led by Arturo Casadevall of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, estimates that the percentage of scientific papers retracted because of fraud has increased more than 10-fold since 1975.
Carl Zimmer notes in The New York Times that previous studies have concluded that most retractions were attributable to "honest errors," but the new study "challenges that comforting assumption."
The authors compiled more than 2,000 retraction notices published before May 3, 2012, and then dug into the reasons behind each retraction. Some reasons were cited by the journals, but the authors also found that the retraction notices for some papers did not cite fraud as the reason for the retraction.
The rise in fraudulent papers "is a sign of a winner-take-all culture in which getting a paper published in a major journal can be the difference between heading a lab and facing unemployment," Zimmer says.
According to Casadevall, the fact that "some fraction of people are starting to cheat" should not be taken lightly, even if the overall number of fraudulent papers is relatively low. "It convinces me more that we have a problem in science," he says.