"Since 2001, while the number of papers published in research journals has risen 44%, the number retracted has leapt more than 15-fold, data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by Thomson Reuters reveal."
In a sign of the times, a blog called "Retraction Watch" has popped up to monitor the flow.
Science is based on trust, and most researchers accept findings published in peer-reviewed journals. The studies spur others to embark on related avenues of research, so if one paper is later found to be tainted, an entire edifice of work comes into doubt. Millions of dollars' worth of private and government funding may go to waste.
Why the backpedaling on more and more scientific research? Some scientific journals argue that the increase could indicate the journals have become better at detecting errors. They point to how software has made it easier to uncover plagiarism.
Others claim to find the cause in a more competitive landscape, both for the growing numbers of working scientific researchers who want to publish to advance their careers, and for research journals themselves.
"The stakes are so high," said the Lancet's editor, Richard Horton. "A single paper in Lancet and you get your chair and you get your money. It's your passport to success."
"Journals all want to have spectacular results," she said. "Increasingly, they're willing to publish more risky papers."
"journals and research institutions don't have adequate systems in place to properly investigate misconduct."
The apparent rise in scientific fraud, said Dr. Horton "is a scar on the moral body of science."In related stories, Michael Mann's 1998 thoroughly discredited 'hockey stick' paper has still not been retracted by Nature, despite being dropped in shame by the IPCC as the icon of global warming. Polarbeargate may become the latest example of scientific fraud in climate science.