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Sci Eng Ethics. 2019 Jun;25(3):771-789. doi: 10.1007/s11948-018-0023-7. Epub 2018 Feb 19.

Testing Hypotheses on Risk Factors for Scientific Misconduct via Matched-Control Analysis of Papers Containing Problematic Image Duplications.

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Department of Methodology, London School of Economics and Political Science, Columbia House, London, WC2A 2AE, UK.
Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS), Leiden University, P.O. Box 905, 2300 AX, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Departments of Laboratory Medicine and Microbiology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA.
Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA.
uBiome, San Francisco, CA, 94105, USA.


It is commonly hypothesized that scientists are more likely to engage in data falsification and fabrication when they are subject to pressures to publish, when they are not restrained by forms of social control, when they work in countries lacking policies to tackle scientific misconduct, and when they are male. Evidence to test these hypotheses, however, is inconclusive due to the difficulties of obtaining unbiased data. Here we report a pre-registered test of these four hypotheses, conducted on papers that were identified in a previous study as containing problematic image duplications through a systematic screening of the journal PLoS ONE. Image duplications were classified into three categories based on their complexity, with category 1 being most likely to reflect unintentional error and category 3 being most likely to reflect intentional fabrication. We tested multiple parameters connected to the hypotheses above with a matched-control paradigm, by collecting two controls for each paper containing duplications. Category 1 duplications were mostly not associated with any of the parameters tested, as was predicted based on the assumption that these duplications were mostly not due to misconduct. Categories 2 and 3, however, exhibited numerous statistically significant associations. Results of univariable and multivariable analyses support the hypotheses that academic culture, peer control, cash-based publication incentives and national misconduct policies might affect scientific integrity. No clear support was found for the "pressures to publish" hypothesis. Female authors were found to be equally likely to publish duplicated images compared to males. Country-level parameters generally exhibited stronger effects than individual-level parameters, because developing countries were significantly more likely to produce problematic image duplications. This suggests that promoting good research practices in all countries should be a priority for the international research integrity agenda.


Duplication; Fabrication; Falsification; Fraud; Gender; Pressures to publish; Research integrity; Scientific misconduct

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