Scientific misconduct is bad, but should it be a crime? One high profile academic says yes.
In a recent interview with New Scientist, Dr. Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, argues that the criminalisation of research fraud is a necessary measure.
Smith suggests that scientists found guilty of misconduct “can’t be trusted” and yet many “have simply carried on with their careers.”
“Science itself has failed to adequately deal with misconduct”, he said.
Smith argues that scientific fraud causes serious social harm, citing as an example disgraced autism researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield’s now discredited study on the link between vaccination and autism caused a massive drop in the number of childhood vaccinations.
Smith also argues that the nature of science means scientists should be held to a higher standard than the general public.
“The temptation to ignore, undermine, or even falsify the offending data is huge. Only those with the highest levels of honesty can accept, let alone be delighted, when data destroy their theories.”
Smith's comments echo the remarks of Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Robert Harding Chair in global child health and policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, in a BMJ interview last year. Dr Bhutta argued that current sanctions against fraud are insufficient. "additional deterrence through punitive measures such as criminal proceedings should be added to the repertoire of measures available", he said.
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