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Constraints on Fabrication Survey

A recent survey suggests that some 18 percent of UK researchers may have fabricated data, but experts tell Retraction Watch points the survey method used has a wide range of error and that survey respondents weren't representative of the research community.

For their study, the University of Kent's Joanna Williams and David Roberts first surveyed more than 300 researchers asking them about research malpractice and followed that up with focus group interviews. In their Society for Research into Higher Education report, Williams and Roberts write that more than a third of respondents said they'd self-plagiarized and about 18 percent said they'd made up research data.

However, the University of Washington's Ferric Fang tells Retraction Watch he isn't too fazed by this study's findings as it relied on "unmatched count" technique that divvied respondents into two groups, one of which was asked many 'sensitive' statement about misconduct applied to them in addition to answering other non-sensitive questions. While that approach was meant to encourage researchers to speak up about misconduct, Williams notes at Times Higher Education that it introduces a large margin of error. For instance, when she and Roberts report that 17.9 percent of researchers fabricated data, they gave a margin of ± 6.1 percent.

Daniele Fanelli from Stanford University also notes that the demographics of the respondents are skewed, Retraction Watch adds.

At THE, Williams writes that the academics they spoke with felt pushed toward such behaviors. She says that many of the researchers who self-plagiarized viewed it more as "an efficient and commonsense means of maximizing publications."

"Although the prevalence of scientific misconduct suggested by this and other surveys is worrisome, I actually take some consolation from the comments of individual researchers, which demonstrate that although scientists are under substantial career pressures, at least some exhibit considerable insight into the potentially corrosive effects of these pressures on their behavior and express a desire to do the right thing," Fang adds at Retraction Watch.