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BBC investigation suggests official data underestimate scale of ‘fake research’ in UK universities

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The pressure on top universities to publish breakthrough basic research in top ranking journals has never been greater, as this can have a direct impact on the degree of funding they receive and the type of talent they are able to attract. Although there have been a number of high profile cases of misconduct or fraudulent data reporting over the last few years, leading to the retraction of articles from top journals, it has commonly been believed that these are extremely rare occurrences. However, a BBC Freedom of Information request has uncovered at least 300 allegations of misconduct were made spanning 23 of the 24 Russell Group universities between 2011 and 2016. This contrasts sharply with the official figure, which cites around 30 allegations over a similar time period.

Of those allegations of plagiarism, fabrication, piracy and misconduct identified by the Freedom of Information request, almost a third were upheld and the retraction of more than 30 primary research articles. The potential for damage to the public perception of scientific integrity has also been recognised by the UK government and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has begun an inquiry into the issue, led by Stephen Metcalfe.

However, although these figures may seem alarming on first consideration, it is important to put these into context, given the high volume of research papers that are published by groups across the UK every year without any hint of misconduct. Furthermore, it should also be emphasised that these findings relate to university-related research, and is therefore not indicative of practices within the reporting of clinical trials.

Further details of the BBC investigation and the responses to their findings can be found in the original report, available here.

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