As the pressures on academics to publish increase it may seem logical that academics would be more inclined to ‘fudge’ the numbers in order to make the results look better. Many journalists and academics have brought up this point and are concerned that fraud and academic misconduct are becoming an increasing problem within the academic community and peer-review is failing to catch it. But are the concerns justified?
Below is a graph showing the number of retractions from PubMed. In 2011 retractions peaked at 373. Since then there has been in a decline in the number of retractions. However, the number of retractions seem to be on the rise again in 2013.
But if we compare the number of retractions to the number of papers published on PubMed the number of papers published has increased dramatically while the number of retractions has remained quite small.
The following tree map shows the journals in the PubMed database who had the most retractions between 1973 and 2011. Note: I have not calculated the ratio of retractions to papers published so these figures may be distorted by the volume of work the journals publish.
This data begs to question if the increased pressure of publishing is really having an effect on the amount of fraud within academia. The data does not account for journals that are not published in the PubMed so there could be many more retractions that have not been accounted for. Despite this, the data seems to show that while the number of papers being published has risen dramatically since 2001, the amount of retractions, while they have gone up, have remained relatively low. But is the relatively low number of retractions due to better peer-review?
It is still impossible to determine if peer-review has gotten better at catching errors or if there are papers still slipping through the scrutinising cracks of academia. So I leave you with a question to ponder: should there be a step within peer review process that scrutinises the paper for academic misconduct and fraud? Let us know what you think @peerrevwatch or comment below.