Ethics: Blog Post 2

After perusing the ORI website, I came upon a case study on Dr. Eric J. Smart from the University of Kentucky, who was charged with numerous counts of scientific misconduct. In part, I chose this particular case because his name is Dr. Smart and how ironic it is that someone whose name is “Smart” would do something so (in my opinion) dumb.

Dr. Smart was found to have “engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in ten published papers, one submitted manuscript, seven grant applications, and three progress reports over a period of ten years. Respondent reported experimental data for knockout mice that did not exist in five grant applications and three progress reports and also falsified and/or fabricated images in 45 figures” (https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-smart-eric-j).

Image result for scientific misconduct

After an investigation, it was recommended that Dr. Smart’s publications either be retracted or corrected. Dr. Smart also agreed to exclude himself from advising and contracting with the USA government for seven years. Unfortunately for Dr. Smart (who does not have my sympathy), even once the seven years expire, he likely will be hard-pressed to find people willing to work with him again. Word spreads. And nobody wants to get caught with a cheater.

Not being in the field of microbiology, I was a bit unfamiliar with the journals listed with fabricated and/or falsified images. All of them were seemingly decent journals (which may be arbitrary, as I based this on impact factors alone – and I won’t go there today). It is really scary to think about how many things (data/images/figures etc) likely are fabricated that are never discovered. Are the journals with the best reputations (i.e., Science and Nature) immune to this? Probably not.

Bottom line, maybe scientists need some kind of “Hippocratic Oath”-type saying that promises that we uphold integrity and shall not cheat the system, falsify or fabricate data and results? I guess we sort of have that informally through mandated RCR courses, but clearly, those are not enough. Sadly, even if we had a more formal oath, people would continue to perform scientific misconduct.

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