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Faked Data

Issue #77

Data, Numbers

by Michael Seadle


Fake data is the most serious type of research integrity problem, because science builds on past results and when those results are false, the foundation becomes shaky. The problem is not new, but the amount of faked data and the sources of the fakes seem to keep growing. In the Retraction Watch blog on 23 May 2024, Dawn Attride wrote a post about “‘Lab Shenanigans’: TikTok Influencer Faked Data, Feds Say.” Darrion Nguyen has already confessed publicly: “‘I was in a lab environment where I was mentally struggling, and I took several shortcuts to produce more data. This stemmed from the fear of my [principal investigator], the pressure to meet expectations to keep my job as a technician, and my personal struggles to keep up with the demands of that lab,’ Nguyen told Retraction Watch. He said his situation underscores the dangers of the “publish or perish” culture prominent in academia.”¹    


The fake data involved “... the number of mice used, their interactions, as well as enhanced mice brain measurements and symptom severity, according to the agency.”¹ His punishment was “... to have his research supervised for three years, and must submit supervision plans and certification of evidence … .”¹  


A Science article by Jeffrey Brainard  discusses “Hundreds of Cancer Papers Mention Cell Lines That Don’t Seem to Exist.”² He writes: “... a recent study investigating eight cell lines that are consistently misspelled across 420 papers published from 2004 to 2023, including in highly ranked journals in cancer research. Some of the misspellings may have been inadvertent errors, but a subset of 235 papers provided details about seven of the eight lines that indicate the reported experiments weren’t actually conducted …”² Concern about this is widely international: “Chao Shen, a cell biologist at Wuhan University and deputy director of the China Center for Type Culture Collection, a repository of human cell lines, hopes the findings gain attention.”² 

 

Jennifer Byrne from the University of Sydney “speculates that paper mill writers may have copied the misspelled names from otherwise legitimate papers … Byrne’s team identified a total of 23 misspelled lines but limited its analysis to eight mentioned in 420 papers to keep the workload manageable.”² The good news is the serious international cooperation to uncover the problem. A similar effort is needed to address the pressure that causes the problem.

 

1:  Attride, Dawn. “‘Lab Shenanigans’: TikTok Influencer Faked Data, Feds Say.” Retraction Watch (blog), May 23, 2024. https://retractionwatch.com/2024/05/23/lab-shenanigans-tiktok-influencer-faked-data-feds-say/.

 

2:  Brainard, Jeffrey. “Hundreds of Cancer Papers Mention Cell Lines That Don’t Seem to Exist.” Accessed May 26, 2024. https://www.science.org/content/article/hundreds-cancer-papers-mention-cell-lines-don-t-seem-exist.

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