Study: Men cheat more than women in medical research
A New York medical re-searcher released a Jan. 22 study demonstrating that men are more likely than women to commit fraud in their life sciences reports and studies.
“Our other finding—that males are overrepresented among those committing misconduct—implies a gender difference we need to better understand in any effort to promote the integrity of research,” said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, the senior author of the study “Males Are Overrepresented among Life Science Researchers Committing Scientific Misconduct,” published in the online journal mBio.
The study was an analysis of professional misconduct led by Casadevall, the journal’s senior editor and professor at the Bronx’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, he said.
Casadevall said the fraud occurred across the career spectrum, from trainees to senior faculty.
“The fact that misconduct occurs across all stages of career development suggests that attention to ethical aspects of scientific conduct should not be limited to those in training, as is the current practice,” he said.
Researchers embarked on the current study to better understand those who are guilty of scientific fraud, he said. They reviewed 228 individual cases of misconduct reported by the United States Office of Research Integrity from 1994 through 2012. The ORI is the office responsible for the conduct of research and investigates charges of misconduct involving research supported by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Fraud could be a function of biology, he said.
“As research has shown, males tend to be risk takers, more so than females, and to commit fraud entails taking a risk,” said Casadevall, who was joined in the study by Dr. Ferric Fang at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Wash., and Joan W. Bennett at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N. J.
“It may also be that males are more competitive, or that women are more sensitive to the threat of sanctions. I think the best answer is that we don’t know,” he said.
The professor said overall, 65 percent of the fraud cases were committed by males, but the percentage varied among the academic ranks: 88 percent of faculty members who committed misconduct were male, compared with 69 percent of postdoctoral fellows, 58 percent of students, and 43 percent of other research personnel.
In each career category, the proportion of males committing misconduct was greater than would have been predicted from the gender distribution of scientists, he said.
The gender difference was surprisingly large among faculty, said the study’s senior author, who’s Yeshiva’s Leo and Julia Forchheimer Chair of Microbiology & Immunology. Just nine of the 72 fraudsters were female, he said. A figure one-third of the expected 27, if females had committed fraud at the same rate as males.
“Now that we have documented the problem, we can begin a serious discussion about what is going on and what can be done about it,” he said.
Casadevall said scientists at all career levels need regular ethics training. “Right now we target trainees for ethics training,” he added. “We don’t do anything after they are hired. It might help if universities required refresher courses in ethics, as they do with courses to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. It won’t stop all misconduct, but it’s one place to start.”