Men more likely than women to commit research fraud, study finds

Male scientists, particularly those of high academic rank, are more likely than women to commit research fraud and other forms of misconduct, according to a study.

In a paper published Monday in mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers suggested that a penchant among men for risk-taking and an increasingly competitive “winner-take-all” funding environment were among the reasons for growing misconduct in life sciences research.

The study, which defines misconduct as falsification, fabrication or plagiarism, examined 227 cases of misconduct investigated by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity. Of those cases, 65% involved men – an over-representation of the ratio of men working in the life sciences.

Researchers also discovered that gender predominance varied according to academic rank. “An overwhelming 88% of faculty members committing misconduct were male, compared with 69% of postdocs, 58% of students and 42% of other research personnel,” the authors wrote.

“Not only are men committing more research misconduct, senior men are most likely to do so,” said Joan W. Bennett, a fungal geneticist at Rutgers University, who was a co-author.


The study authors noted that men were also over-represented in other other societal misdeeds, such as theft, violent crime and cheating in school. They predicted that increased competition for smaller and smaller funding resources would probably make the situation worse, and could have the effect of driving female researchers out of the field.

“Many women are totally turned off by the maneuverings and starkly competitive way of the academic workplace,” Bennett said. “Cheating on the system is just one of many factors that induce women to leave academe and seek professional careers in other environments.”

The study is the second in a series of papers examining misconduct among scientists. The first, published in October, found that fraud, plagiarism and misrepresentation were responsible for the majority of retractions in biomedical journals. That finding contradicted earlier studies that suggested that most retractions were the result of errors. In the most recent paper, authors questioned whether ethics training in the sciences was targeting the correct groups.

The National Institutes of Health mandates that students and postdocs undergo ethics training if certain public funds are awarded for research, according to the study authors. However, those groups were responsible for only 40% of the misconduct, they wrote.

“Misconduct is a tremendous problem in science,” said co-author Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist and immunologist at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “The data show that it’s coming predominantly from one gender. I think as scientists we need to understand it and try to reduce it.”

In addition to expanding ethics training to senior faculty, authors suggested that more effective mentoring programs and oversight by independent agencies might help reduce misconduct.