Fabricating data is a serious offense in the making, and can have several grave implications when it comes to important scientific research. Data fabrication is defined as falsification or invention of any data, whether it be experimental results, or information used in scholarly papers.

Although data fabrication would normally be done by a scientist involved in the paper’s research, it is estimated that about 2% of researchers have either admitted knowledge or suspicion of fabrication of data in a study. Though data fabrication is a malicious act, it is not one without influence, as data fabrication can shape an entire field of research and deceive the public. Here are some cases of influential research data fabrication, and how they have shaped their fields.

Craig Venter and the Human Genome Brian Wansink and Eating Habits Andrew Wakefield and MMR Vaccines Jan Henrik Schon and Nanotechnology Ivan Oransky and False Scientific citations

Craig Venter and the Human Genome Craig Venter is an American biologist and entrepreneur who, in 2001, was credited with the first sequencing of the human genome. Following the completion of the sequencing, the results of his scientific paper was published in the journal Science and hailed as a huge achievement. Six years later however, it was revealed in the journal Gene and Bioinformatics that a small portion of the data from Venter’s research was false and had a high degree of similarity to other databases. The paper alleged that Venter had fabricated somewhere between 1.3 and 5.3% of the data in his paper and had improved random numbers while overlooking databases with large amounts of similarities. Though the paper did not name Venter, it was soon verified that these allegations were true and the claims of data fabrication were found to be valid.

Although the extent of data fabrication was not immediately made clear, the American Society of Human Genetics later performed a study of the paper, and the subsequent investigation revealed that Venter had falsified the data by implanting more than 10,000 base pairs of false data into the sequence. Though the exact motives for Venter’s data fabrication are still undisclosed, it was suspected to be a result of his competition with Celera Genomics, a rival laboratory competing against him for a highly demanded patent in the scientific community.

Brian Wansink and Eating Habits Brian Wansink is an American behavioral scientist who is a professor at Cornell University, and was working on a paper titled “Mindless Eating: Theory, Findings and Applications.” Wansink was trying to understand the behaviors behind mindless eating and how it affects the choices people make related to health, diet and nutrition. The paper, published in 2006, claimed to reveal that children over the age of three were likely to consume more food if it was served to them in a larger packaging.

Soon after its publication however, the paper drew attention and criticism as several scientist objected to the accuracy of the data. Further investigation by the New York Times revealed that Wansink had allegedly fabricated over 70% of the data used in the paper. Wansink had taken two study groups, labeled them with different packaging and then fused the data to form one conclusion. This was a violation of scientific protocol, as it falsely inflated the number of participants in the study and created a bias towards the results.

As a result of the incident, Wansink was investigated and reprimanded by Cornell University and the scientific community. He was asked to retract six of his studies that were considered to have suspicious data, as well as suspend all ongoing research. Although it is still unclear why Wanksin chose to fabricate data, it is speculated that he may have done so to maintain his competitive status in the health-nutrition field.

Andrew Wakefield and MMR Vaccines Andrew Wakefield was a British doctor and former medical researcher whose paper in 1998, titled “Ileal-Lymphoid-Nodular Hyperplasia, Non-Specific Colitis, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children”, suggested that there was a link between vaccines and autism. This paper raised a lot of public concern as it claimed an increased risk in contracting autism following the measles, mumps, and rubella MMR vaccine, which caused widespread controversy amongst the scientific community.

After years of investigation, it was found that Wakefield’s paper contained several data fabrication errors. For example, he portrayed photos of children in the paper with test results contrary to their actual medical records. In addition, it was revealed in the journal BMJ that Wakefield had also misused data from other studies, and had falsified data in order to support his hypothesis. As a direct result of this incident, several of Wakefield’s papers were retracted, and he was shortly afterwards barred from practicing medicine in the UK.

Jan Henrik Schon and Nanotechnology Jan Henrik Schon is a Material’s physicist and former researcher at Bell laboratories and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. In 2001, Schon had reported the completion of a revolutionary nanotechnology project which he had been working on for a year. Schon’s project, which claimed to have created a superconducting material and to be the first of its kind, received extensive media coverage and was published in some of the most important journals in the field, including Science, Nature and Nature Materials.

In 2004, Schon was accused of falsifying data by several anonymous bloggers on the website Fakescience. The claims alleged that Schon had fabricated data for as many as 19 scientific papers and had improved the results on lab experiments. An investigation by Max Planck Institute soon followed, and concluded that the claims of data fabrication were true, that Schon had falsified results through multiple experiments and had fabricated nearly half of the data in over nine of his scientific papers.

Schon lost his post at Bell Laboratories and the Max Planck Institute, and in total, had to retract eighteen of his papers. The extent of data fabrication was so severe that, in 2006, Schon was estimated to be responsible for 6% of all retracted papers.

Ivan Oransky and False Scientific Citations Ivan Oransky is an American medical editor and former professor at New York University. He authored a paper in 2009 which described a new method of tracking the accuracy of test results. The paper was published in the journal Science and had several groundbreaking implications for scientific research and the tracking of accuracy in lab results.

However, an article by Retraction Watch in June 2017 alleged that Oransky had fabricated data in the paper by not citing original researchers for their work. On further investigation, it was found that Oransky had cited some researchers multiple times, or had cited such researchers who had not even done a part in the paper’s research. The paper was found to have 98 citations, 78 of which were found to be completely fabricated.

As a result of his data fabrication, Oransky was asked to retract his paper as well as apologize to the scientific community, and the paper was eventually retracted in 2018.

Data fabrication is a malicious act, and it has serious implications on research which can shape an entire field of studies and even deceive the public. The cases of Craig Venter and the Human Genome, Brian Wansink and Eating Habits, Andrew Wakefield and MMR Vaccines, Jan Henrik Schon and Nanotechnology, and Ivan Oransky and False Scientific cittations were all examples of influential research data fabrications that had high impacts in their respective fields. It is important to remain vigilant when it comes to surveillance of data fabrication and ensure that accuracy are followed throughout the entirety of research.