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In scientific inquiry and academic research, fabrication is the intentional misrepresentation of research results by making up data, such as that reported in a journal article. As with other forms of scientific misconduct, it is the intent to deceive that marks fabrication as highly unethical and different from scientists deceiving themselves. In some jurisdictions, fabrication may be illegal.
Examples of activities that constitute fabrication include:
- Outright synthesis of experimental data; reporting experiments that were never conducted. Sometimes referred to as "drylabbing".
- "Fudging", "massaging", or outright manufacture of experimental data.
Some forms of unintentional academic incompetence or malpractice can be difficult to distinguish from intentional fabrication. Examples of this include the failure to account for measurement error, or the failure to adequately control experiments for any parameters being measured.
Fabrication can also occur in the context of undergraduate or graduate studies wherein a student fabricates a laboratory or homework assignment. Such cheating, when discovered, is usually handled within the institution, and does not become a scandal within the larger academic community (as cheating by students seldom has any academic significance).
A finding that a scientist engaged in fabrication will often mean the end to his or her career as a researcher. Scientific misconduct is grounds for dismissal of tenured faculty, as well as for forfeiture of research grants. Given the tight-knit nature of many academic communities, and the high stakes involved, researchers who are found to have committed fabrication are often effectively (and permanently) blacklisted from the profession, with reputable research organizations and universities refusing to hire them; funding sources refusing to sponsor them or their work, and journals refusing to consider any of their articles for publication. In some cases, however, especially if the researcher is senior and well-established, the academic community can close ranks to prevent injury to the scientist's career.
Fabricators may also have previously earned academic credentials taken away. In 2004, Jan Hendrik Schön was stripped of his doctorate degree by the University of Konstanz after a committee formed by Bell Labs found him guilty of fabrication related to research done during his employment there. This action was undertaken even though Schön was not accused (in the matter in question) of any fabrication or other misconduct relating to his work which led to or supported the degree—the doctorate was revoked, according to University officials, solely due to Schön behaving "unworthily" in the Bell Labs affair.
- Shapiro, M.F. (1992), "Data audit by a regulatory agency: Its effect and implication for others" (PDF), Accountability in Research, 2 (3): 219–229, doi:10.1080/08989629208573818, PMID 11653981
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- Wilmshurst, Peter. "Dishonesty in Medical Research" (PDF).