In the last post, we looked at a piece of research on how easy it is to clean up the scientific literature in the wake of retractions or corrections prompted by researcher misconduct in published articles. Not surprisingly, in the comments on that post there was some speculation about what prompts researchers to commit scientific misconduct in the first place.
As it happens, I've been reading a paper by Mark S. Davis, Michelle Riske-Morris, and Sebastian R. Diaz, titled "Causal Factors Implicated in Research Misconduct: Evidence from ORI Case Files", that tries to get a handle on that very question.
The authors open by making a pitch for serious empirical work on the subject of misconduct:
[P]olicies intended to prevent and control research misconduct would be more effective if informed by a more thorough understanding of the problem's etiology. (396)
If you know what causes X, you ought to have a better chance of being able to create conditions that block X from being caused. This seems pretty sensible to me.
Yet, the authors note, scientists, policy makers, and others seem perfectly comfortable speculating on the causes of scientific misconduct despite the lack of a well-characterized body of relevant empirical evidence about these causes. We have plenty of anecdata, but that's not quite what we'd like to have to ground our knowledge claims.