Do individual and institutional predictors of misconduct vary by country? Results of a matched-control analysis of problematic image duplications

Daniele Fanelli*, Matteo Schleicher, Ferric C. Fang, Arturo Casadevall, Elisabeth M. Bik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Pressures to publish, perverse incentives, financial interest and gender are amongst the most commonly discussed risk factors for scientific misconduct. However, evidence of their association with actual data fabrication and falsification is inconclusive. A recent case-controlled analysis of articles containing problematic image duplications suggested that country of affiliation of first and last authors is a significant predictor of scientific misconduct. The same analysis found null or negative associations with individual proxies of publication rate, impact and gender. The latter findings, in line with previous evidence, failed to support common hypotheses about the prevalence and causes of misconduct, but country-level effects may have confounded these results. Here we extend and complete previous results by comparing, via matched-controls analysis, articles from authors in the same country. We found that evidence for individual-level risk factors may be significant in some countries, and null or opposite in others. In particular, in countries where publications are rewarded with cash incentives, and especially China, the risk of problematic image duplication was higher for more productive, more frequently cited, earlier-career researchers working in lower-ranking institutions, in accordance with a "misaligned incentives"explanation for scientific misconduct. However, a null or opposite pattern was observed in all other countries, and especially the USA, UK and Canada, countries where concerns for misaligned incentives are commonly expressed. In line with previous results, we failed to observe a statistically significant association with industry funding and with gender. This is the first direct evidence of a link between publication performance and risk of misconduct and between university ranking and risk of misconduct. Commonly hypothesised individual risk factors for scientific misconduct, including career status and productivity, might be relevant in countries where cashreward policies generate perverse incentives. In most scientifically active countries, however, where other incentives systems are in place, these patterns are not observed, and other risk factors might be more relevant. Policies to prevent and correct scientific misconduct may need to be tailored to a countries' or institutions' specific context.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0255334
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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