Scientific Fraud More Likely Among Men Than Women In Life Science Fields
A cross-disciplinary team of researchers, themselves life scientists, report that among rejected scientific papers prepared by scientists at all levels of their careers, men are more likely to be guilty of fraudulent reporting than women. While this finding opens up many issues related to gender, both biologically and culturally, it also raises the issue of why gender differences narrow or widen according to particular career levels.
Senior author, Arturo Casadevall, M.D., PhD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, had previously found that scientific misconduct, as opposed to 'error,' is responsible for two-thirds of all retractions of scientific papers. In this study, Casdevall and his team reviewed 215 rejected scientific papers by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, from 1994 through 2012, found to be fraudulent.
A breakdown of the fraudulent information revealed that 40 percent involved trainees, 32 percent involved faculty members, and 28 percent involved other personnel, such as research scientists, technicians, study coordinators, and interviewers.
While overall, 65 percent of the fraud cases were committed by males, in the highest academic ranks males committed 88 percent of the ethical misconduct. Among post-doctoral fellows in the offending group, 69 percent were male, in the student group 58 percent were male, and among other research personnel, 43 percent were male. Gender data was, of course, proportionally rated.
Why do men engage in fraud more than their female counterparts? Why are men at very high career levels willing to risk committing such fraud? These questions were beyond the scope of this study. Casadevall speculates that perhaps it is because men tend to be greater risk takers than women, and perhaps there is more pressure upon the higher ranking scientist to publish and also greater reward.
"It may also be that males are more competitive, or that women are more sensitive to the threat of sanctions. I think the best answer is that we don't know. Now that we have documented the problem, we can begin a serious discussion about what is going on and what can be done about it."
Misrepresentations in scientific reporting are serious offences, undermining the most basic principles of science, those that rely on complete objectivity, with no predetermination of result. Scientific fraud is both unethical and, ultimately, costly, most especially where plant, animal, and human life may be endangered by it. So it is important to live science fields, in particular, to understand more about factors contributing to scientific fraud in an attempt to reduce the incidence of it.