The Fraud Examiner
The Common Male Fraudster: Spotting Demographic Trends
By Laura Hymes, CFE
A recent report in the academic journal mBio concluded that fraud in the scientific community is significantly more likely to be perpetrated by men than women. The article, “Males Are Overrepresented among Life Science Researchers Committing Scientific Misconduct,” was written by Ferric C. Fang, Joan W. Bennett and Arturo Casadevall, and published earlier this year. Their conclusion regarding the prevalence of male fraudsters might seem obvious considering that there are more men than women in scientific fields; however, even accounting for this gender disparity in the industry, men in lab coats committed substantially more fraud than their female counterparts.
The study analyzed 228 cases of misconduct reported to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), an organization devoted to responsible and honest academic research. According to the cases, the fraudulent practices comprised — among other things — plagiarism and the fabrication of data, and the dishonest individuals included students and professors. By examining common traits of these fraudsters, the analysts sought to understand who is more likely to undertake deception and how to encourage academic honesty. Motivations for scientific fraud include very tough competition to receive research funding, jobs and awards.
Fang, Bennett, and Casadevall found that fraud occurred in all stages of career advancement, from trainees to lab technicians, all the way up to tenured faculty. They had anticipated finding that trainees (i.e., students and post-doctoral fellows) perpetrated the majority of fraud, and they noted that it was unexpected to find only 40 percent of the incidents attributed to this group. The remaining 60 percent were committed by faculty (32 percent) and other lab professionals (28 percent).
Of the ORI cases studied, males committed 65 percent of frauds overall, and the analysts identified a clear trend within this gender skew: Men in higher positions were more likely to perpetrate misconduct than women in higher positions. The lower the professional rank, the more gender equality there was among the dishonest individuals. Among faculty members, men committed 88 percent of frauds; 69 percent of deceptive post-docs were male; 58 percent of student misconduct was by males; and 42 percent of research staff frauds were by men. The authors of the mBio study compared these numbers to the distribution of men and women working at the different professional levels in the life sciences and found that men were overrepresented as fraudsters, despite there being more men in such positions.
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