With fraudulent studies on the rise, consumers must read between the headlines

Consumers have borne the brunt of a barrage of pseudo-scientific studies in mainstream media over the past ten years claiming that the chemistry behind everyday products could be harmful to them or their families.

Over the course of that same decade, retractions of “scientific” studies found to be fraudulent or inaccurate increased by tenfoldfrom around 30 per year, to more than 400.

“It convinces me…. that we have a problem in science,” says Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Intentionally falsified data found in 158 studies

Working with a medical communications consultant, Dr. Casadevall, alongside fellow researcher Dr. Ferric C. Fang of the University of Washington, analyzed 2,047 retracted papers in the biomedical and life sciences. They found that, in the decade preceding May 2012, a staggering 158 studies were published based on intentionally falsified data.

University of Michigan research ethicist Nicholas Steneck calls it fraud:

I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re detecting more fraud, and that systems are more responsive to misconduct. It’s become more acceptable for journals to step in.

More acceptable and — more necessary than ever — to set the record straight.

Winner-take-all culture no benefit to consumers

Dr. Casadevall says the rapid increase in fraudulent papers is “a sign of a winner-take-all culture” in which researchers are forced to decide between getting a paper published in a major journal — and seeing if your science holds up — or facing unemployment.

Activists that help fund these studies and then package them for mainstream media are doing just as much of a disservice to consumers.

Unfortunately, while poorly conducted studies about chemical risks can be debunked and retracted, the fear and anxiety they instill in American consumers cannot. That’s why it’s important to remember to always check the source — and always read between the headlines.

Image via nature.com

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