Male and older scientists are more likely than female and younger colleagues to commit research misconduct, according to a new study.
Researchers analysed data from the US Office of Research Integrity, which investigates allegations of misconduct in research funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Misconduct includes violations such as fabrication, falsification and plagiarism.
Of about 230 people who committed scientific misconduct between 1994 and 2012, 66% were men. The disparity in research misconduct between men and women was highest among senior scientists, according to the study, which was published Jan. 22 in the online journal mBio.
Older men most implicated
"Not only are men committing more research misconduct, senior men are most likely to do so," study co-author Joan Bennett, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, said in a journal news release.
A combination of social, cultural and biological factors may explain why male scientists are more likely to commit misconduct than female colleagues, the study authors said.
The researchers said they were surprised that the misconduct was not confined mostly to younger scientists trying to make a name for themselves.
"When you look at the numbers, you see that the problem of misconduct carries through the entire career of scientists," study co-author Arturo Casadevall, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said in the news release. "Faculty (32%) and other research personnel (28%) represented a total of 60% of cases, whereas students (16%) and postdoctoral fellows (25%) were sanctioned in only 41% of cases."
The "winner-take-all" reward system and the pressure to find research funding are among the reasons scientists commit misconduct, and also why many women get out of research, Bennett said.
"Many women are totally turned off by the manoeuverings and starkly competitive way of the academic workplace," she said. "Cheating on the system is just one of many factors that induce women to leave academia and seek professional careers in other environments."
The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences provides a Research Ethics Timeline.