The incidence of misconduct in science and the significance of several confirmed cases have been topics of extensive discussion. Measures of the incidence of misconduct in science include (1) the number of allegations and confirmations of misconduct-in-science cases recorded and reviewed by government agencies and research institutions and (2) data and information presented in analyses, surveys, other studies, and anecdotal reports.
Some observers have suggested that incidents of misconduct in science are underreported. It may be difficult for co-workers and junior scientists, for example, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, to make allegations of misconduct in science because of lack of supporting evidence and/or fear of retribution. The significant professional discrimination and economic loss experienced by whistle-blowers as a result of reporting misconduct are well known and may deter others from disclosing wrongdoing in the research environment.
Owing to differing perspectives on the role of government and research institutions in addressing misconduct in science, and to discrepancies in the number of allegations received by government offices, the number of open cases, and the cases of misconduct in science confirmed by research institutions or government agencies, many questions remain to be answered. These areas of uncertainty and disagreement inhibit the resolution of issues such as identifying the specific practices that fit legal definitions of misconduct in science; agreeing on standards for the evidence necessary to substantiate a finding of misconduct in science; clarifying the extent to which investigating panels can or should consider the intentions of the accused person in reaching a finding of misconduct in science; assessing the ability of research institutions and government agencies to discharge their responsibilities effectively and handle misconduct investigations appropriately; determining the frequency with which misconduct occurs; achieving consensus on the penalties that are likely to be imposed by diverse institutions for similar types of offenses; and evaluating the utility of allocating substantial amounts of public and private resources to handle allegations, only a few of which may result in confirmed findings of misconduct. The absence of publicly available summaries of the investigation and adjudication of incidents of mis-