MAY 14 ― Identifying scientific misconduct as a ‘pandemic’ would not be an exaggeration in the current academic world. Indeed, the regular news headlines of retractions for one or another form of scientific misconduct would endorse such an impression.

To date, there are more than 46,000 retractions in The Retraction Watch Database — which is now part of Crossref — and the number is growing every day. The Retraction Watch Leaderboard keeps an updated list of authors with the highest number of retracted papers. An additional list shows how many times retracted papers were cited before and even after those were retracted.

Surely, those numbers reflect the widespread scientific misconduct but perhaps do not represent the actual magnitude of the pandemic. Reading between the lines of the retraction headlines and those numbers exposes rather a scary sketch of the future of the scientific venture.

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Enough of the discussions that were made to identify the reason behind the scientific misconduct practice! No other than the ‘publish-or-perish’ policy has been named as the number one culprit. However, the impact of those retractions on the pursuit of science is more than just the number of retracted papers or the number of citations of those retracted papers received.

Let's bring back science with soul, so that the outcome is solely for the betterment of mankind. ― Picture by Julia Koblitz/Unsplash
Let's bring back science with soul, so that the outcome is solely for the betterment of mankind. ― Picture by Julia Koblitz/Unsplash

Many of those authors on the list of the Retraction Watch Leaderboard could be seen as prolific scientists in their fields. At the same time, the content of the highly cited retracted papers might have been established as acceptable scientific evidence which in reality was fabricated or fraudulent.

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Both those authors and retracted papers have misled hundreds of researchers who followed nothing less than fabricated scientific doctrine. That means a fabricated science was repeated hundreds of times. Could those researchers have found different results in the research they conducted, but were persuaded to publish their research in line with those doctrines that were eventually retracted?

Did that repetition make the fabricated science the ‘true’ science? Well, the infamous law of propaganda attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels says so, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” Or rather, an illusion of truth.

Say, an observation based on fabricated results was established through a publication. Being fascinated by the observation, other researchers also published papers to support similar observations. A few years later if the first observation is retracted due to fabricated results it was based upon, what should be the fate of the subsequent supporting observations?

In reality, scientific misconducts either perpetuate the science of lies or give birth to prolific pseudoscientists. In the end, neither of them does good to humanity.

The controversial diet-heart hypothesis is one such example where ‘science’ led humanity in the wrong direction yet gave unprecedented fame to the proponent of the hypothesis. By carefully selecting the most graphically convincing pieces of information, Ancel Keys or better known as Mr. Cholesterol proposed his controversial diet-heart hypothesis in the 1950s. Later he was not only accused of copying the ideas of Dr. John Gofman and his colleagues to propose the hypothesis, but also for his denial to accept the flaws in the results he published.

Ancel Keys was also accused of hiding additional findings that were completed at a later stage of his research and that contradicted his initial publications.

Because of his publications and his interview with Time magazine in 1961, millions of people around the world harmed their health by increasing the probability of developing coronary heart disease and a shortened life expectancy.

To cut a long story short, let us ask the question: why do scientists like Ancel Keys pursue science that is not only wrong but also harmful to mankind? It is not unlikely that they are persuaded by their whim for fame or to some extent their survival in an academic job market that demands ‘number’ of papers on their CV.

With the examples of Ancel Keys and many others, we have experienced how scientific misconduct and prolific pseudoscientists are causing a massive scienocide i.e., killing science that in turn kills humanity.

Scienocide must be stopped and the only way to do it is to bring back the soul in scientific ventures. Let the academics and scientists grow their love and passion for science and stop persuading them to race for a higher number of publications for the purpose of job hunting or promotion.

At the root, it is the responsibility of every supervisor of a research project or a research student to check if the work they want to publish is authentic and reliable. Perhaps this is the very first step to bringing back the soul in a scientific venture and stop this scienocide.

* The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.