We are all aware that bad science gets published all the time. It's a nature of the beast. However, what are the impacts of this bad science? For some researchers, like the infamous dirtbag Andrew Wakefield, the impacts of poor and dishonest science will last a lifetime and create ripples of unfounded fear throughout society for decades. On the less extreme side, bad science costs a lot of money. How much money? A study by Dr. Ferric Fang has the answer.
This study looked at scientific articles that were retracted between 1992-2012. Data collected from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found that 291 research articles from the United States alone were retracted within this time. Of these 291 articles, 95.9% of them were removed from circulation due to data falsification. To estimate the financial impact of these retracted articles, the authors used the NIH ExPORTER database to establish which articles were supported solely by NIH funding. Using this method, they were able to narrow down the retraction list to 43 articles whose funding sources can be 100% accounted for and calculated. They found that the mean attributable cost for this group of 43 was $425,072/article! That cost is essentially a R01 grant, intended to fund an entire lab. In total, that sums to a number just shy of $2 billion. Accounting for articles that were at least partially funded by the NIH as well as adjusting for 2012 inflation, that number soars to $2.3 billion. Although this number is less than 1% of all NIH funding through 1992-2012, there are still many indirect costs associated with article retraction and data falsification.
First, the authors found that any corresponding researcher found guilty of data falsification saw a 91.8% decrease in article publication after the retraction. The authors also found that of the 43 articles whose funding source was solely supported by the NIH, 23 of them stopped publishing completely. In addition to poor reputation of the corresponding author, it is likely that any other author on these articles is experiencing the same misfortune. This study did not speculate on the indirect costs of article retraction and data falsification, but one can imagine these impacts would be severe. For example, cost of investigation into the original infraction, loss of wages for the corresponding author, loss of advancement opportunity for all additional authors, lack of respect of the department and university/research institution from which the article originated, and overall decline in fundability of similar studies in the future.