Integrity in research is like handing over the keys when you’ve had one too many

I just read about Matthew Poore and the data he falsified:

http://ori.dhhs.gov/content/case-summary-poore-matthew

Here’s what I think: lying about research is like drunk driving.  It’s too easy to do.  And we aren’t very good at detecting all the times it happens.  Therefore, the consequences need to be severe and as close to permanent as possible.

Matthew Poore used results from an experiment as results from a second experiment that never actually took place.  No one knows if this was laziness or lack of funding or a time crunch.  And who cares?  We’re all under the same pressure and experience the same constraints.  The rest of us manage to get it done without lying.  What if the person who conducted the safety testing on your mother’s new cancer medicine was lying?  Or your child’s allergy medicine?  This is an intensely serious problem.

According to the CDC, the average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before his first arrest.  How many times did Matthew Poore lie prior to being caught?  We’ll never know.  And will he continue to lie?  About one third of arrested drunk drivers are repeat offenders (NDOT, 1995).

But wait, you say.  Matthew Poore must now go through a rigorous three year probationary period.  Ha!  I hope you noticed that once the ORI has approved his plan for research supervision, it is none other than Matthew Poore himself who is responsible for compliance to said plan.  Who should we rely on to tell us if the lying offender is following the rules now?  Clearly someone thought that the lyer himself was the best answer.  Come on, people! Fifty to 75% of drunk drivers continue to drive on their suspended licenses (Peck, et al., American Journal of Public Health, 1995).  The punishment is not harsh enough to deter people from lying and continuing to do so even if caught.

My solution is whiskey plates.  In Minnesota, convicted drunk drivers must have special license plates on their cars identifying them as such.  If you are caught cheating, you must henceforth put a special astrick next to your name on every publication.  That way we know to watch out for swerving and to drive a little more defensively.

 

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