An Editorial published online in JAMA on October 19, 2018 discussed research misconduct in medical journals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines research misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.” The Editorial states, “When authors are found to have been involved with research misconduct or other serious irregularities involving articles that have been published in scientific journals, editors have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the scientific record.”
The Editorial states: “Although not much is known about the prevalence of scientific misconduct, several studies with limited methods have estimated that the prevalence of scientists who have been involved in scientific misconduct ranges from 1% to 2%. During the last 5 years, JAMA and the JAMA Network journals have published 12 notices of Retraction about 15 articles (including recent Retractions of 6 articles by the same author) and 6 notices of Expression of Concern about 9 articles. These notices were published primarily because the original studies were found to involve fabrication or falsification of data that invalidated the research and the published articles; in some cases, postpublication investigations could not provide evidence that the original research was valid.”
“Since 2015, JAMA and the JAMA Network journals also have retracted and replaced 12 articles for instances of inadvertent pervasive error resulting from incorrect data coding or incorrect analyses and without evidence of research misconduct. During the same period, 1021 correction notices have been published in these journals. The JAMA Network policies regarding corrections and retraction with replacement have been published previously.”
How Do JAMA and JAMA Network Respond To Allegations Of Scientific Misconduct In Published Medical Research?
The Editorial states: “if scientific misconduct or the presence of other substantial research irregularities is a possibility, the allegations are shared with the corresponding author, who, on behalf of all of the coauthors, is requested to provide a detailed response. Depending on the nature of the allegation, it can take months for some authors to respond to the concerns.”
“After the response is received and evaluated, additional review and involvement of experts (such as statistical reviewers) may be obtained. In the majority of cases, the authors’ responses and additional information provided regarding the concerns raised are sufficient to make a determination of whether the allegations raised are likely to represent misconduct. For cases in which it is unlikely that misconduct has occurred, clarifications, additional analyses, or both, published as letters to the editor, and often including a correction notice and correction to the published article are sufficient.”
“To date, JAMA has had very few disagreements with individuals making allegations of scientific misconduct, although some have been critical of the time it has taken for JAMA and other journals to resolve an issue of alleged scientific misconduct.”
“However, if the authors’ responses to the allegations raised are unsatisfactory or unconvincing, or if there is any doubt as to whether scientific misconduct has occurred, additional information and investigation are usually necessary, and the appropriate institution is contacted with a request to conduct a formal evaluation. At that time, and depending on the nature of the allegations, the journal may publish a notice of Expression of Concern about the published reports in question, indicating that issues of validity or other concerns have arisen and are under investigation … ”
“For cases in which misconduct has been identified, the institution and the authors may recommend and request retraction of the published article. In other cases, based on the report of the investigation from the institution, the journal editors make the determination of what actions are needed, such as whether an article should be retracted; or when a notice of Expression of Concern had been posted, whether it should be subsequently followed by a notice of Retraction. In each case, the notices are linked to and from the original article, and retracted articles are clearly watermarked as retracted so that readers and researchers are properly alerted to the invalid nature of the original articles.”
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