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Good practices

Journals with higher impact factors have more retractions

Daniel BuenoTo understand how far scientific misconduct can go, Ferric Fang, the editor-in-chief of Infection and Immunity, and Arturo Casadevall, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, examined the retraction rate in 17 scientific journals from 2001 to 2010 and compared them to the impact factor, which measures the publications’ reach. They concluded that the higher the impact factor, the higher the retraction rate. The journal with the highest retraction rate was the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most important medical journals in the world, which questioned the methodology of the study. Recently Infection and Immunity itself had to publish several retractions of articles by a single cancer researcher, Naoki Mori. She authored 30 articles that were retracted but denies wrongdoing and argues that colleagues were careless in writing the text (New York Times, April 16). Her articles had to be corrected because they used images from previous studies rather than presenting those from the studies being described. Mori stated that this kind of reuse does not constitute misconduct. Fang, from Infection and Immunity, disagreed and lamented that Mori continued to claim innocence. “Unfortunately, individuals found guilty of sloppy or fraudulent research conduct seem to fall into a handful of behavioral patterns,” he commented in an interview to the New York Times. According to the newspaper, Eric Poehlman, a researcher from the University of Vermont, was an exception. In 2006, having been condemned to a year in prison for falsifying data in a government grant application and having made up data in papers on obesity, menopause and aging, he apologized publicly and offered an explanation: “I had placed myself, in all honesty, in a situation, in an academic position in which the amount of the grant that you held basically determined your self-worth.” Poehlman argued that he would have to reduce the size of his team and not pay his bills if he did not get the grants – and so started fabricating data for his articles. “I was on a treadmill and I couldn’t get off.” Carl Zimmer, the author of the New York Times article, reminded readers that scientists, to survive, must publish as many papers as possible, preferably in the most widely-read journals, and that sometimes they take shortcuts, simplify procedures or act unethically to reach their objectives.