The Economics of Scientific Misconduct

The Economics of Scientific Misconduct


  • Nicola Lacetera
  • Lorenzo Zirulia


Journal of Law, Economics and Organization


Scientific fraud is a pervasive phenomenon with deleterious consequences, as it leads to false scientific knowledge being published, therefore affecting major individual and public decisions. In this paper we build a game-theoretic model of the research and publication process that analyzes why scientists commit fraud and how fraud can be detected and prevented. In the model, authors are asymmetrically informed about the success of their projects, and can fraudulently manipulate their results. We show four main results. First, the types of scientific frauds that are observed are unlikely to be representative of the overall amount of malfeasance in science; also, star scientists are more likely to misbehave, but are less likely to be caught than average scientists. Second, a reduction in the costs of checking for frauds may not lead to a reduction of misconduct episodes, but rather to a change in the type of research that is performed. Third, an increase in competition between scientists may in fact reduce, and not increase, scientific misconduct. Finally, a more active role of editors in checking for misconduct does not always provide additional deterrence.