Ever wondered what would happen if you decide to tweak data to fit expectations? Well, the outcome would be anything but pretty, assuming you get caught. Being found guilty of manipulating data has dire consequences which range from loss of researcher’s credibility to retraction of research from journal publications. You might ask, “does this really happen?”
Yes, it does. A good example would be the case of David Anderson, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, Eugene. The Office of Research Integrity opened David’s case in the year 2015. The Office of Research Integrity had found that David “knowingly falsified data by removing outlier values or replacing outliers with mean values to produce results that conform to predictions.” David who had published the findings of the said research in four journals would lose all the publications that reported the doctored findings. The Office of Research Integrity had mandated the editors of the journals to retract David’s research from their journal publications. Not only that, David was then placed under strict supervision regarding subsequent research. This also has negative implications for the credibility of research that comes from the laboratory that David works for. Moreover, because labs survive on grants, this unfortunate discovery might negatively impact their ability to secure grants in the future. If you are close to the workings of academia, you would know that all these are really bad news, to say the least.
Having said all these, another big question you might have is: why would anybody want to falsify data or results in the first place? Well, the reasons are not far-fetched. We live in a world of evidence. Fund granting organizations, the government, the Senate, and the United States public at large wants evidence. These funding agencies most of the time need “the desired result” to continue to fund a project. If results are not in sync with predictions, it might make them cut funds. On the other end, researchers need funds to keep their labs open and running. There comes the “researcher’s curse”, dilemma of choosing between integrity or keeping their lab running (or research funded). Unfortunately, some people succumb to this pressure and choose the former; David happens to be one of those. The aim of this blog is definitely not to shame David, while admitting that the act is shameful, however, this blog is trying to enlighten other researchers about how tantalizing it could be to succumb to these pressures. In addition, this blog also speaks to funding agencies. It is my hope that funding agencies would alleviate these pressures by accepting as important, results that do not align with predictions; only then would we begin to see more integrity in research.