Scientific Misconduct in Management Research

30 January 2011 at 10:30 am 6 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

Fraudulent behavior in research is the ultimate academic gossip. It is hardly surprising that our post on Thomas Basbøll’s claim that management theory heavyweight Karl Weick has engaged in plagiarism (here) was one of O&M’s most popular posts in 2010. One of my own papers was once directly copied. All that was changed was the front page. In one of those strange coincidences, the journal editor asked my co-author to review the paper. The plagiarist was a consultant, not an academic, so it is possible that the case had no consequences for him.

How prevalent is scientific misconduct in management research? And how strongly should we care? After all, what gets published in the management journals does not have the same direct impact as what gets published in the medicine journals, or what the UN’s Intergovernmental Climate Panel utters. While management research may not cure cancer, it likely has considerable impact on resource allocation, and therefore on what is available for curing cancer. Moreover, there are strong externalities: A reputation for “bad science” in one field or discipline may easily spill over to other fields and disciplines. Hence, misconduct should be regarded with as severely in management research as in other fields and disciplines.

With respect to the incidence of fraudulent research behavior, rather little is known. While fraud in, particularly, medicine tends to draw major headlines in the press, I cannot recall anything similar in the case of management research. It seems unlikely that management researchers should be significantly more honest than researchers in medicine, so our lack of knowledge in this seems troublesome. In “Management Science on the Credibility Bubble: Cardinal Sins and Various Misdemeanors,” recently published in the Academy of Management Learning and Education, Arthur G. Bedeian, Shannon G. Taylor, and Alan N. Miller present evidence that research misconduct is quite a prevalent phenomenon. Briefly, they collected data from faculty in 104 PhD-granting management departments in the US. Questions identified “eleven different types of questionable research conduct, including data fabrication, data falsification, plagiarism, inappropriately accepting or assigning authorship credit, and publishing the same data or results in two or more publications.” 

Some of Bedeian et al.’s examples of “questionable research conduct” seem somewhat open to interpretation and questioning (e.g., “developing ‘ins’ with journal editors” — in fact, the initiative for such “ins” often emerge from the editor side; “published the same data or results in two or more publications” — presumably, there is nothing necessarily wrong with publishing “the same data … in two or more publications”), and the procedure of asking faculty to indicate their “knowledge of faculty engaging in” research misconduct is questionable, as different faculty may relate to the same episode of research misconduct (they acknowledge this problem). Still, the numbers are quite striking. More than 70% reports knowledge of cases of not giving due credit to originators of ideas (i.e., plagiarism). Even more report knowledge of data manipulation, although only (?) 27% report knowledge of outright data fabrication.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Myths and Realities, Papers. Tags: .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Thomas  |  30 January 2011 at 12:00 pm

    William Bottom has a really good paper about the history of the “research based model” of business education in History of the Behavioral Sciences. One point he makes that caught my eye (for obvious reasons) is that because of the “vast financial resources” that the Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations poured into the b-schools, “Academics pursuing advancement had little to gain by scrupulously referencing the original contribution. Nor were they likely to be hurt by failing to do so” (257). It seems plausible to me that push for more “scientific” management research has had the unfortunate effect of valorizing anything that looks like science and providing few incentives for (“little to gain by”) the sort of criticism that exposes, and therefore deters, sloppiness and fraud.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  30 January 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Of course, compared to the natural sciences, a field like management may also invite a lot of spurious claims — remember the guy who claimed he invented “innovative capacity,” and launched an email harassment claim against the alleged thieves?

  • 3. Michael E. Marotta  |  30 January 2011 at 5:27 pm

    What are you going to do about it? While completing my master’s one of the last classes I had was a senior class for graduate credit in “Ethical Issues in Physics.” Our paradigm was the case of Jan Hendrik Schön. Although granting that his doctoral dissertion was above reproach, the University of Konstanz took away his degree. That has a strong foundation as the university as an institution is self-governing. (My paper is on my website here.

    As for why we have so little knowledge of this in managment science and rather more in medicine, the fact is that the US Department of Health and Human Services has its Office of Research Integrity to monitor the work done under its grants. (And defrauding the government is a felony.) In theory any research university has such an office. In practice, outcomes vary.

    We know in criminology that prosecution follows enforcement. You tell cops to watch out for jaywalkers, and that’s what you get in court. Basically, in management research, there are no cops. So, of course enforcement is peer-level (tattle tale), rather than institutional.

  • 4. Nico  |  31 January 2011 at 3:47 pm

    My take on the issue:)

  • 5. David Hoopes  |  31 January 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Over at Coordination Problem, Peter Boeetke discusses a posting by Joe Salerno at Mises. Salerno states that the economics field would benefit from a more “vocational” versus “professional” orientation. When I read this I thought that management scholars and scholarship was overwhelming profession oriented. My very jaded observation of the field being that “we” are far more driven by professional advancement than curiosity (though there are plenty of exceptions).

  • 6. katolab  |  18 January 2012 at 9:22 am

    Alleged image fraud by Kato lab at the University of Tokyo in Japan
    Research misconduct? Fabrication? Falsification? Unintentional and inadvertent mistake? Coincidental similarity? Shigeaki Kato laboratory : Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, University of Tokyo, 1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0032, Japan.

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