Combating Science Fraud

August 5, 1988

Report Outline
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Introduction

With incidents of fraud at leading universities shaking up the science community, scientists are looking at ways to reduce the competitive pressures that may have fostered cheating and fraud in research. They're also drafting new procedures for dealing with fraud allegations. But it's not yet clear whether scientists are taking fraud seriously enough to police it effectively or whether the government will step in to do it for them.

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Overview

In 1981, at the first congressional hearings ever held to investigate science fraud, National Academy of Sciences President Philip Handler testified that fraud in scientific research was a rarity that occurred “in a system that operates in an effective, democratic and self-correcting mode.” Handler and other leading spokesmen for the scientific community said there was no need for outside checks on scientific honesty.

This year Congress is again holding hearings on science fraud, but no one is arguing that the profession's traditional checks will ensure honesty in the laboratory. Because of a rash of frauds at leading universities, the scientific community is looking at ways to reduce the competitive pressures that may have fostered cheating and fraud in research. Academic institutions are also trying to come up with new procedures to investigate fraud allegations swiftly and impartially. Members of Congress, meanwhile, are considering beefing up the investigative arms of the federal agencies that fund most science research, a prospect many scientists find appalling. The question that has yet to be decided is whether scientists are taking fraud seriously enough to police it effectively or whether the federal government will step in and do it for them.

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