A new study shows which nations in the world have the highest rate of retracting scientific papers due to fraud. Which country has the dirtiest scientists? A statistician analyzes the numbers for you.
Over at Nature blogs, biologist and statistician Bob O'Hara looked at the numbers from the study, which looked at numbers of papers retracted in the PubMed database. In the chart above, left-hand columns show why papers were retracted, and the right-hand column is how many papers were published.
O'Hara realized that a more complicated analysis was needed than "bigger numbers means more fraud," since the numbers needed to be normalized for numbers of papers published per country, along with a few other things. He writes:
The US produced the most retracted papers. But ... they also produce more papers than most countries ... So, time to answer the question of statistical significance. The statistical analysis is fairly simple [click here to read the full statistical analysis] ...
We can see that the US has a slightly higher estimated rate of retraction due to fraud, which corresponds to about 30% more fraud per paper than average. But China and India have higher rates of retraction due to fraud than the US (and p-value fans will be happy to know that they are both statistically significance, with lots of stars to make you happy). China has about 3 times as many fraud retractions per paper as average, and India 5 times as many.
What does this mean for fraud and dishonesty? It may not mean that Indian scientists are more dishonest: it may be that they are no more or less honest than anyone else, just they they are caught more often and made to retract. I'll let others debate that: I have weak opinions, but no more data to back these up.
Maybe what we're seeing is that both America and India have the highest rates of transparency when it comes to scientific fraud. Not only are our dirty researchers more likely to be caught, but they're more likely to be forced to retract their work when that happens.