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Cheating

Cheating is a problem not only among students, but among teachers and administrators (as shown by the recent conviction of Georgia educators for faking student test scores). A recent study claiming to show voters' opinions about gay marriage could be influenced by discussion with gay canvassers illustrates how the pressure to publish can lead to cheating by researchers. Michael LaCour, a "political science researcher" at UCLA, published a report in Science of the study with this unexpected result, but when subsequently asked was unable to produce the evidence on which it was based. Before his research was challenged, it appears Princeton offered to hire LaCour, for he posted on Facebook that he would soon move east for his "dream job" as a professor there.

Dr. Ivan Oransky, with regard to whether being the lead author on an impressive study published in Science was "enough to get a position in a prestigious university," stated that "They don't care how well you taught. They don't care about your peer reviews. They don't care about your collegiality. They care about how many papers you publish in major journals."

According to an article in the New York Times by Benedict Carey and Pam Belluck,

The details that have emerged about the flaws in the research have prompted heated debate among scientists and policy makers about how to reform the current system of review and publication. This is far from the first such case.

The scientific community’s system for vetting new findings, built on trust, is poorly equipped to detect deliberate misrepresentations.

- Doubts About Study of Gay Canvassers Rattles the Field, by Benedict Carey and Pam Belluck, May 25, 2015


A New York Times editorial provides a good overview:

Cheating in scientific and academic papers is a longstanding problem, but it is hard to read recent headlines and not conclude that it has gotten worse. ...
Cheating is thought to contaminate only a small portion of all the research in this country, but no one knows for sure. ...
Often a young researcher, driven by the academic imperative to “publish or perish,” fudges the data. ...
Another answer to the problem of fraudulent research, though, might be more research. The federal government could sponsor studies to determine how much cheating goes on, how much harm it causes and how best to combat it.
- Scientists Who Cheat, by THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JUNE 1, 2015


Julia Belluz argues against focusing entirely on cheaters when investigating the problems with published research:

It’s not just bad apples themselves who are to blame. The scientific process itself has serious structural flaws — flaws that make it hard to catch fraud and, in some cases, even discourage researchers from exposing it.

She quotes Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, as saying:

"Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness."
- How the biggest fraud in political science nearly got missed, Julia Belluz, June 3, 2015, Vox


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