Moral Kombat

Good evening folks! Hope your day was as great as mine!

Today I’d like to talk about an area that is near and dear to my heart: morals and ethics. Sounds like a strange thing to be passionate about, but hear me out.

I work in the field of food science and technology with a focus on functional foods and human health. Suppose I come out with an amazing new study claiming that I can use one of the compounds found in coffee grounds to reduce risk of heart attack by 40%, and I have all the figures, data, and statistics to back this claim. Now lets say that I…tweaked some of my results to be a bit more favorable to my conclusions. Nothing too major, just changing a few numbers to give me a little more statistical significance, maybe i took out some of my low values. No big deal, right? I mean after all, its for the greater good of improving human health? Well that may help me sleep at night, but falsifying data is a serious offense that falls into the category of research misconduct, a major taboo in the scientific community.

Research misconduct is not only illegal, but could also be dangerous in certain fields such as the human health sector. By falsifying results that could eventually get published and cited in other experiments, you could be playing a role in the creation of a new drug or medicine that may not actually work, or even be detrimental to the public’s health! Because of these staggering consequences, organizations such as the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) oversee and monitor research integrity activities within the U.S. Public Health Service on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. The ORI provides documentation of research misconduct cases to the public as both a reminder of the potential consequences and to serve as an example for anyone in a lab who may want to report an instance of research misconduct. 

I went onto the ORI site and pulled an article that I think illustrates my point, which you can check out here.

From the reading, we learn that Matthew is actually a graduate student, not unlike myself. More than likely, he was trying to get a manuscript published, a very important factor when pursuing a post-secondary degree. Unfortunately, Matthew decided to falsify some of his experimental results, which lead to some consequences. Now, Matthew must be supervised in any research which he could potentially receive funding for, and his employing university must cosign on ALL of his manuscript submissions, saying that the work is legitimate. Some might say that that’s not too bad, but consider this: any university who sees this background could be discouraged from hiring Matthew. After all, who wants to hire a researcher who needs to be watched over every time he wants to publish a paper?

Matthew may have made a mistake, but it isn’t one that is foreign to many graduate students. After weeks, months, years of terrible data, some students have toyed with the idea of toying with the data to produce more favorable results. Not out of malice, but out of desperation to finish their degrees. But these are only my thoughts, tell me what you think? Do you think the consequences are entirely too steep? Or that Matthew got what he deserves? Let me know what you thinl!

Until next time,

Dr. Chaos, signing off.