That headline is just misleading and dishonest

I understand to get people to read an article you need a good headline but they should at least reflect the content of the story and be honest. I was rather dismayed when I foundthis headline pop up on my News24 Sci-Tech feed, “Fraud ‘rife’ in science research.” That sounds like a major problem. However I had read the story before, both in Science and Nature, and those titles were not nearly as dramatic, being “Misconduct, Not Mistakes, Causes Most Retractions of Scientific Papers” and “Misconduct is the main cause of life-sciences retractions” respectively.

Nature’s title is definitely the most accurate as the work was confined to a database consisting mostly of biomedical research but the study itself does use science in general in it’s own title, “Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications.” However the News24 headline is completely misleading as the study does not show that fraud is rife in science research, it shows that fraud is the main reason for retractions in the biomedical sciences. What the news article fails to mention, but is in the study as well as Science and Nature’s news articles, is that less than 0,01% of articles have been retracted! A headline like that is irresponsible and damaging to science, a problem the study mentions in it’s discussion (point iii).

Although articles retracted because of fraud represent a very small percentage of the scientific literature (Fig. 1B), it is important to recognize that: (i) only a fraction of fraudulent articles are retracted; (ii) there are other more common sources of unreliability in the literature (41–44); (iii) misconduct risks damaging the credibility of science; and (iv) fraud may be a sign of underlying counter- productive incentives that influence scientists (45, 46).

We know scientific publishing is not perfect. As point ii mentions there are other problems with the literature, for example the bias to publish only positive results, which I’d say is also linked to point iv, or when drug companies withhold data that reflects poorly on their products. But we know about these problems and are working to fix them. It’s not helpful for a news agency to make up alarmist headlines by twisting studies.

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One thought on “That headline is just misleading and dishonest

  1. Pingback: Why the hate for foreigners? | Evidence & Reason

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