Vast majority of the American public wants research fraud criminalised, with many supporting prison sentences

The US public wants tougher sanctions for research fraud, with the vast majority advocating criminalisation and many even endorsing prison sentences for committing it, according to recent analysis by criminal justice researchers from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany. Currently, criminal penalties for research fraud are extremely rare, with prison sentences only being given out in a handful of cases.

The SUNY team conducted two surveys, the first with 821 individuals and a second follow-up survey polled a representative sample of more than 950 people in the US. In the first survey, over 90% of respondents said scientists caught falsifying or fabricating data should be fired and banned from receiving government funding. In addition, more than 65% of participants indicated that research fraud should be a criminal offense, and well over a third said the same thing about selective reporting.

In both cases, the survey respondents favour fines and/or probation, but a smaller number opted for jail times. Interestingly, the second survey produced even more dramatic results – 91% of respondents support the criminalisation of data fraud, but most favour prison over fines or probation. ‘The results indicate that slightly over half of all Americans would prefer both to criminalise data fraud and to sentence fraudsters to a period of incarceration,’ the authors note.

The SUNY researchers suggest that their findings have significant policy implications in light of growing publicity surrounding instances of scientific fraud, and increasing questions about the replication of research.