The Wall Street Journal published an article this morning, August 10, 2011, discussing the rising trend of peer-review scientific journals publishing retractions of articles. In many cases of clinical research these retracted publications could be associated with serious health risks to human patients because other doctors instituted procedures and treatments based on erroneous or fraudulent published data. These doctors and scientists should definitely be held accountable for any harm caused if it can be determined that the work was indeed fraudulent.
Let me add my own perspective on this trend. Funding for scientific research, as well as academic/industrial advancements, are directly related to the number of publications a research scientist generates. This is particularly true in the US but the rest of the world is not immune to these pressures. In the US, the more publications one has the more likely they are to receive funding from both government and private funding agencies. With fewer overall dollars for research and more bodies competing for these dwindling dollars what do you think is going to happen? Retractions of peer-reviewed scientific publications is up 15-fold since 2000. I would argue that over 80% of those retracted papers are the result of outright fraudulent and fabricated data.