Research Ethics: Data Fabrication

In what follows, I have copied the case summary I have found. After that, I have written my comments on this case.

Case Summary: Elqutub, Maria Cristina Miron
Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Based on Respondent’s admission, the report of an inquiry conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), and analysis conducted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in its oversight review, ORI found that Ms. Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub, Research Interviewer, MDACC, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant U01 DE019765-01.

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by intentionally and knowingly falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in the following two (2) published papers and two (2) grant progress reports submitted to NIDCR, NIH:

PLoS One 10(6):e0128753, 2015 Jun 2 (hereafter referred to as “PLoS One 2015”)
Cancer 121(14):2367-74, 2015 Jul 15 (hereafter referred to as “Cancer 2015”) Retracted in: Cancer 124(4):869, 2018 Feb 15
5 U01 DE019765-04
5 U01 DE019765-05
Specifically, ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by recording dates and providing her own blood samples to cause these samples to be falsely labeled as samples from ninety-eight (98) study subjects in a cancer genetics study involving human blood samples. This resulted in the reporting of false data in Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4 in PLoS One 2015, in Figure 1 and Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4 in Cancer 2015, and in the Results sections of Project 2 progress reports for NIDCR, NIH, grants 5 U01 DE019765-04 and 5 U01 DE019765-05.

Ms. Elqutub entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement and voluntarily agreed, beginning on April 26, 2018:

(1) to have her research supervised for a period of three (3) years; Respondent agreed to ensure that prior to the submission of an application for U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) support for a research project on which Respondent’s participation is proposed and prior to Respondent’s participation in any capacity on PHS-supported research, the institution employing her must submit a plan for supervision of Respondent’s duties to ORI for approval; the supervision plan must be designed to ensure the scientific integrity of Respondent’s research contribution; Respondent agreed that she will not participate in any PHS-supported research until a supervision plan is submitted to and approved by ORI; Respondent agreed to maintain responsibility for compliance with the agreed upon supervision plan;

(2) that for a period of three (3) years, any institution employing her must submit, in conjunction with each application for PHS funds, or report, manuscript, or abstract involving PHS-supported research in which Respondent is involved, a certification to ORI that the data provided by Respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise legitimately derived and that the data, procedures, and methodology are accurately reported in the application, report, manuscript, or abstract;

(3) if no supervisory plan is provided to ORI, to provide certification to ORI on an annual basis for a period of three (3) years that she has not engaged in, applied for, or had her name included on any application, proposal, or other request for PHS funds without prior notification to ORI;

(4) to exclude herself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant for a period of three (3) years; and

(5) to the correction or retraction of PLoS One 10(6):e0128753, 2015 Jun 2.

My comments on this case are as follows. I believe that while the punishment measurements are good since they will highly limit any future fraudulent action, they have some problems.
First, I think the limitations should not only focus on PHS-related researches. it seems that they only target the works related to PHS. This is problematic since even if the person does good in the projects related to PHS, she still might cheat for other projects which are funded by other departments. So, I think the limitations should be applied to any kind of government-funded research that is conducted by the person and it should not only be limited to PHS.
Second, I think that it is not a good idea that they are publicly declaring the person’s name. Maybe, after facing the consequences of her work, the person gets corrected and avoids such misconduct in the future. Yet, publicizing her name can destroy her career forever which I believe is not fair.

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1 Response to Research Ethics: Data Fabrication

  1. bbgrove says:

    Thanks for summarizing the case and then presenting your critique. You raise a good point about the scope of the sanctions in that this seemingly leaves the door open for similar shortcuts in research funded by other agencies. I am also curious about her employer’s reaction to the settlement. The additional burden of proof falls on her employer, causing added work and expense for research activities she conducts. As you have indicated, publishing her name will likely not have a positive effect on her career. Do funding agencies ask about research misconduct or actively search ORI or Retraction Watch of similar lists when reviewing grant applications? How likely is someone who has been publically listed on ORI to be awarded funding in the future?

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