Ethics Blog Post

The Office of Research Integrity has an accumulation of case studies at this website: https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case_summary.

Discussions around scientists performing research unethically usually exist in an ethics class, where an anonymous scientist at an anonymous university falsified data, and the whole classroom discussion centers around “who did what wrong and why.” For some reason, reading the case studies myself and knowing the name, position, institution, publications, and grants that were involved spiked a whole other level of anxiety.

While reading the names of the researchers, I began to have sympathy for them, as one can only imagine how hard it is to recover in academia after being listed on a national list for research integrity flaws. I also began to wonder what prompted this type of behavior. After a bit of reflection, I decided it must be from the severe pressure they feel in their positions, as many of these case studies followed a similar trend: the falsification of data in XYZ journal/grant, following some sort of freeze to their academic independence (4 years of no direct mentorship, service on committees, etc).  I find myself doubting that someone would ever directly falsify data, however, it is clear that these individuals were thoroughly investigated, and guilty. Somewhere along their career path, it seems that fame somehow became more important than the science. 

How can we encourage honest, ethical science? Journals need to provide avenues to report negative results. Why is there so much pressure to always have correct hypotheses? In many circumstances (especially for trainees), it would save time and resources to know what doesn’t work. This would require a culture shift, where people celebrate and be rewarded for publishing interesting, “non-significant” data. It seems anti-climatic now, but I believe would greatly benefit the field of biomedical engineering.

Leave a Reply