Ethics Blog Post: Case Summary From Texas Tech University Health Science Center

For this blog post, I decided to discuss a case summary from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of research misconduct that happened at Texas Tech University Health Science Center. The case summary can be found here. In short, Rahul Dev Jayant, Ph.D., who was an Assistant Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, intentionally plagiarized, falsified, and/or fabricated several images, graphs, figures, and data that were used in several grant applications. As a result of this, Dr. Jayant entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement where his research will have to be supervised by a committee of 2-3 senior faculty members familiar with his field. This supervision includes reviewing data, preparing reports, reviewing grant applications and manuscripts, etc. The institution employing him will also have to submit certifications to ORI for basically anything he does saying that it is legitimate. Finally, he is not allowed to serve in any advisory capacity to the Public Health Service. All of this is required for a period of three years. These case summaries only provide what happened and what was done about it. They do not provide any background on the reasons why, or what happened after the fact. I skimmed through a few other summaries, and they are all the same.

This makes me curious about several things. First, why would an assistant professor, someone who has done research presumably for several years, plagiarize images and graphs intentionally? I feel as though that is something that would be relatively easy to check out, especially for someone with knowledge of the current research in that field. The consequences seem pretty severe to take that kind of risk. This person likely now is pretty unattractive to employers, and his reputation is stained for the rest of his career. Was it something he considered to be unimportant, and didn’t want to spend time on?

Also, how do they know for sure that he did that all of these things intentionally? I read through the report carefully but could find nothing saying he admitted to doing it intentionally. It just says that he settled, but this could just be because he didn’t want to put in the time or resources to fight the charges. Is it possible, using the plagiarism as an example, that he just accidently left off the citation, or cited it wrong? I don’t know these answers, and I am not saying I think he is innocent. I am just curious how they came to the conclusion that everything was intentional. I assume if someone was really curious, there is a full report available somewhere. However, it would be nice to have a little context from these reports.

Regardless, it demonstrates the high price to be paid for dishonest or even careless actions such as these. Someone’s entire career could be ended because of one case such as this. It highlights how important it is to always provide clean and honest work, even if it takes longer to do. It also highlights how important it is to be diligent when citing other’s work, as carelessness can lead to severe consequences as well. It is, however, nice to see that there is a group watching for things like this, especially in the medical field. With much of the research in the medical field, people’s lives depend on the accuracy and integrity of that research. However, regardless of the consequences, there will always be people who break the rules or are too careless with their work. With a group such as this watching out for cases like those, I feel we can put much more trust in the research findings. After all, that is the purpose of doing the research in the first place.

Austin Garren

3 Replies to “Ethics Blog Post: Case Summary From Texas Tech University Health Science Center”

  1. Hi! I like your reflections on this case, as I skimmed this particular one as well. I agree with your point about the “time” aspect being one that is tedious, but necessary. I have been trained to have an audit trail for my research which acts as the checklist/notes for different phases of the research. As a qualitative researcher, this is incredibly important because my positionality as a researcher definitely influences the way I interpret the data. It’s good practice to take notes on one’s reflections as the research progresses, as this can help to inform next steps. Although this practice can take up more time if I’m running to and from interviews, or coding/analyzing between classes, etc., it will help me in the long run if someone wants to see my specific thought process or decisions made throughout the research process.
    Best,
    Steph

  2. Hi Austin, thanks for sharing this.
    For me, it is interesting that this researcher was accused in intentionally plagiarizing, falsifying, and/or fabricating data. Using the poker terminology, it seems like he decided to go “all-in”. It was not just some small case misconduct, there was a bunch of them.
    I also don’t know why it is stated that plagiarism was intentional without providing any details. I don’t think they use a polygraph to find the truth in such cases, so I assume the only way to make this conclusion is when the researcher confesses that he/she did that intentionally.
    I overall agree with your opinion. In addition, I would like to say that the case of unintentional plagiarism hypothetically can happen with any researcher. Therefore we all should be very careful and double check everything over and over again.

  3. Hello Austin,

    Thank you for your post. I reviewed a case similar to this one, but it involved a graduate student instead of a faculty member. The question of motivation is a trouble one, indeed. The evidence must represent the minimum standard of more likely than not that the infraction occurred. Thus, it seems likely that the individuals knew what they were doing. Then there is the question of why. Why does the risk outweigh the threat of discovery?
    I wonder if the pressure of publication has anything to do with the decision to falsify data? I am a firm believer in research and growth of the scientific. understanding. Yet, I wonder if the whole enterprise is getting out of hand. Is there so much pressure on Faculty and Students to publish that falsifying data is a considerable option, and if so what should the Academy do, if anything, in response?
    To this my own question, I have no great answer. I often question how much responsibility the Academy has for the indirect troubles its culture creates? I do think that the pressure to achieve is too often misplaced on graduate students and new faculty. The Academy could achieve more collectively if the pressure was reduced to a more manageable rate. I truly believe that individuals would be more productive if they were able to put their own mental health above their work.

    Best,
    Kuneyl

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