More scientific fraud uncovered


Yet another case of fraud in science has come to light

A highly cited 1997 paper on transcription—coupled repair was retracted by Science this week, after coauthor Steven Leadon, formerly of the University of North Carolina, was found guilty by a university committee of fabricating and falsifying data.

The research, which had been cited 227 times, reported evidence for one of the two prevalent hypotheses explaining the molecular correlates of Cockayne syndrome, a disorder that leads to death in early childhood.

The suggestion is that one of the underlying causes of Cockayne syndrome is the cell's inability to perform transcription—coupled repair of oxidative damage, according to first author Priscilla Cooper of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The alternative hypothesis states that the proteins involved in transcription—coupled repair are also important for efficient basal transcription in the absence of any kind of DNA damage.

Fraud in science has serious consequences, but so does fraud in other areas of academic research, such as history or sociology. The notorious case of Michael Bellesiles could easily have led to the adoption of gun control law based on false premises. The United States Supreme Court based its school desgregation decison in Brown v. Board of Education partially on sociological studies which have now been questioned.

Human nature being what it is, and the financial stakes in certain reserach results being what they are, fraud is an ever—present possibility in academic research. The situation is aggravated by the increasing contempt many in the academy have adopted toward the general public and by the increasing fragmentation among the disciplines, with scholars unwilling to critique others outside their narrow specialty.

Perhaps it is time to consider applying the sanction of law to academic fraud in the same manner it is applied to financial fraud.

Thomas Lifson   6 18 05