July 13, 1994

The Scientific Community's Response to Evidence of Fraudulent PublicationThe Robert Slutsky Case

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Information Analysis, American Medical Association (Mr Whitely and Dr Hafner), and JAMA (Dr Rennie), Chicago, Ill. Mr Whitely is now with Price Waterhouse, San Francisco, Calif, and Dr Hafner is a consultant in Glenview, Ill.

JAMA. 1994;272(2):170-173. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520020096029

Objective.  —To determine whether scientists can detect fraudulent results in published research articles and to identify corrective measures that are most effective in purging fraudulent results from the literature.

Design.  —Retrospective case-control study comparing articles by an author known to have published fraudulent articles, Robert A. Slutsky, MD, to a set of control articles. The number of non-self-citations received by each article during each calendar year (1979 through 1990) was counted. The citation numbers were transformed into scores. Each Slutsky article was assigned a score between 1 and 3 based on the number of citations received by the Slutsky article and each of its assigned control articles. Average citation numbers and scores were tracked for each year during the 11-year study period.

Results.  —Before Slutsky's work was publicly questioned (1975 to 1985), scientists cited his articles as frequently as they cited control articles. After Slutsky's work was questioned and reports were published in the news media (1985), scientists cited his articles less frequently than they cited control articles. Citations decreased further after the University of California—San Diego published a review of the validity of Slutsky's work in 1987. Citations did not decrease after the appearance of retractions in print or in MEDLINE.

Conclusion.  —Scientists do not, and probably cannot, identify published articles that are fraudulent. However, when alerted to the presence of fraudulent results in the literature, the scientific community responds by reducing the number of citations of the tainted articles. In the Slutsky case, general news articles and the three reviews published by the University of California—San Diego were most effective and retractions were least effective in purging fraudulent results from the literature.(JAMA. 1994;272:170-173)