Dr. Smart was not very smart

In November 2012, it was announced that a senior research associate of the University of Kentucky (UK) had been involved in scientific misconduct for over a decade. Over this time period, it was found that he falsified 45 figures in 7 grant applications, three progress reports, and 10 published papers. Some of these publications accumulated over 100 citations. He was highly renowned in his field and some of his research even led other scientist down research paths that would end up being a dead-end.  In addition, his research brought UK over $8 million dollars in federal grants.

As a result of these findings, Dr. Smart resigned from his position at UK and began working as a chemistry professor at a local high school. The university recommended that he retract or correct the ten papers in question. In addition, Dr. Smart agreed to not be involved in federal grant applications for 7 years starting from 2012. Dr. Smart had 13 researchers employed by him/his grants over this period, each of which were given 1 year from late 2009 to find other work. From what has been reported, these researches were not blamed in his misconduct and have all found work in other labs/institutions.

It appears that there was no request for return of the federal grant funds upon finding this misconduct. This is not surprising because where would the money come from? What is surprising is that Dr. Smart was allowed to keep his PhD which he earned in 2003 from UK. He went on to work for UK as a research professor. It seems as though this misconduct started during his PhD given that it was going on for over ten years and he earned his PhD in 2003. Is it possible that there is systemic misconduct at this institution that UK doesn’t want to get involved in? If this falsification happened during his PhD, it also means that his academic advisor was involved. There is no way he could have published falsified results without his advisor knowing. So now, there are potentially two researchers at this institutions that have been involved in academic misconduct. It is somewhat unbelievable that no one is looking at his advisor or is advisors collaborations.

Maybe this institution breeds researchers that have a poor moral compass. If UK were to look into the advisor, they may open a large black hole that would bring a lot of bad publicity to the institution which would affect their grant money. But not looking into potential misconduct is an ethical issue in itself. Regardless, it seems likely that Dr. Smart is not the end of the road with this case.






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