Research Misconduct in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Joseph Ana, Tracey Koehlmoos, Richard Smith, Lijing L. Yan
Publication date: 
26 March 2013

Research misconduct is a global problem as research is a global activity. Wherever there is human activity there is misconduct. But we lack reliable data on the extent and distribution of research misconduct, and few countries have mounted a comprehensive response to misconduct that includes programmes of prevention, investigation, punishment, and correction. The United States, the Scandinavian countries, and Germany have formal programmes [1], but even a country like the United Kingdom that has a long research tradition and has for years been debating research misconduct has failed to mount an adequate response [2]. But what of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), many of which are investing heavily in research? There are some high profile cases of misconduct from these countries, but little has been published on research misconduct in LMICs. This article provides what might best be described as an initial sketch of research misconduct in LMICs. (Research misconduct has a specific definition, in the United States [see below], but we, like many others, use the term broadly in this paper to cover every kind of misconduct—major or minor and intentional or not.)

Summary Points

All human activity is associated with misconduct, and as scientific research is a global activity, research misconduct is a global problem.
Studies conducted mostly in high-income countries suggest that 2%–14% of scientists may have fabricated or falsified data and that a third to three-quarters may be guilty of “questionable research practices.”
The few data available from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) suggest that research misconduct is as common there as in high-income countries, and there have been high profile cases of misconduct from LMICs.
A comprehensive response to misconduct should include programmes of prevention, investigation, punishment, and correction, and arguably no country has a comprehensive response, although the US, the Scandinavian Countries, and Germany have formal programmes.
China has created an Office of Scientific Research Integrity Construction and begun a comprehensive response to research misconduct, but most LMICs have yet to mount a response.

Citation: Ana J, Koehlmoos T, Smith R, Yan LL (2013) Research Misconduct in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. PLoS Med 10(3): e1001315. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001315

Published: March 26, 2013

Copyright: © 2013 Ana et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: No specific funding was received for writing this article.

Competing interests: RS was, as described in the article, much involved in the Singh case. He is also a trustee of the UK Research Integrity Office. All other authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Abbreviations: LMIC, low- and middle-income country

Provenance: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.