Ethics: The Office of Research Integrity

First off, I must admit I was not aware that the Office of Research integrity posted cases of misconduct on a virtual wall of shame. I mean, it makes sense to have these cases made publicly available, and I assume the publications they are associated with are retracted as well, but I’ve never stumbled across the comprehensive list of guilty parties. I was a little surprised at how short the list is, which is either great news for the country’s research integrity, or bad news for the reviewers who haven’t been able to identify falsified data yet (obviously I’m hoping it’s more of the former).

The case I spent the most time reading was that of Logan Fulford. His case was compelling to me as he was also a graduate student at the time, and I can empathize with being a stressful environment as a graduate student in basic science. However, as we delve further into the misconduct claims, my empathy wanes – not only because he clearly took the wrong approach to managing a stressful grad school experience, but also because his attempts at falsifying data weren’t even particularly clever or well thought. Duplicating western blot images is a very obvious way to manipulate one’s figures. Reviewers have already made software to identify replicated images in manuscripts – this is just a terrible, desperate approach. The same goes for manipulating exposure, background lighting, and scales of said blots. These are not new concepts, and the software will catch you!

That being said, this is also a great example of why author’s and readers should be wary of western blot- centered analysis. If your lab doesn’t have a better tool, at least back up your data with multiple assays. Western blots are an old fashion, unquantifiable, and non-spatially specific way of measuring relative quantities of protein that are easy to manipulate. If your phD is riding on a handful of western blots, you’ve got a problem.

1 Comment

Filed under Preparing the Future Professoriate

One Response to Ethics: The Office of Research Integrity

  1. jamerikana

    I had the same initial reaction of surprise as you about the “wall of shame,” but you made a great observation that the case list is short—I had not thought about that and I wonder why. If there are no oustanding cases not published to the site then maybe there are few cases of misconduct unless it means individuals are keeping their misconduct under the radar. The case I reviewed involved an associate professor so your case is sobering to know that graduate students can also end up on this list for misconduct. I stopped feeling sorry for the individual I read about until I saw the multiple offenses, which means the person was fully aware of the misconduct they were participating in. Like the graduate student in your case, the miscondut was “very obvious.” I wonder what was the motivator to take such a risk with one’s academic career.

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