Research misconduct: how many more?

There are several cases of research misconduct listed in The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, as other members of the Future Professoriate class have pointed out in their blogs, the number is somewhat astonishing. More astonishing is that it does not list all the papers that have been retracted for fraud across all disciplines. While looking at this list, I thought about how many other cases could have gone unnoticed? Or how many will surface in the future? I hope the answer is none. Another question that prompted in my mind was: what drives a “researcher” to fabricate or falsify data? Probably something that others, and you (the reader) questioned as well. Is it money? Is it pressure to publish? Is it anxiety? I don’t know the answer, perhaps it is a combination of multiple circumstances that drive someone to commit fraud.

One of the misconduct cases listed in the ORI website is that of Teresita L. Briones, former Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at Wayne State University. The main factor that impacted me from this case was the number of documents in which data was falsified/fabricated: 5 published papers and 3 grant applications. The date of the publications ranged from 2009 to 2015, which means that this former professor engaged in research malpractice for at least six years. There are no specific details about what caused these papers to be reviewed, but it seems a little “worrying” that the same person was able to publish manipulated material for six years. This prompts to other set of questions: are there tools that could be used to identify fabricated/falsified research material? People that are found to have committed research misconduct are liable for any health, economic or other type of consequences that could have been derived from the fraudulent publications?

In respect to the first question, it seems like the language used in the publication might be one variable to consider[1]. Negative language, lack of clarity and intentions to “hide” or obscure some parts of the paper could be some indicators of potential fraud. In a way, it is the intention of the researcher to avoid being caught what could help to identify misconduct. In relation to the second question, civil monetary penalties are defined under the False Claims Act (FCA)[2] when the fraud affects governmental programs. I did not dig further into non-governmental cases, and in the particular case of Teresita Briones, not sure if there was any liability besides the agreed sanction with the ORI.

[1] Bjorn Carey, Stanford researchers uncover patterns in how scientists lie about their data.



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2 Responses to Research misconduct: how many more?

  1. Hi, Carlos,
    It is worth bringing up this issue of motivations in class and discuss it. I agree with the notion that the pressure to publish is an important one. A solution is less reliance on the number of publications and more on the quality or the importance of the subject and what is achieved by the research, but this is hard to measure. I have come across researchers publishing repetitive experiments or pursuing “salami publishing” in even well-known journals just to increase the number of articles. I think it is the journal reviewer/editors’ task to filter similar works and ask the writer to archive them in another way. This may encourage focusing on new solutions for new problems. We can talk a more about this during the class.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Armin, thanks for your comment, and apologies for not getting back earlier. I think we could debate about the pressure of publishing and other potential reasons, but the root of the problem is what really needs to be reached. The core values of people, their principles, their morality, their ethics. If people with low ethics end up as scientists, then we could be in trouble

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