Office of Research Integrity Case: Karnik, Pratima

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) lists many cases of research misconduct every year. In choosing a case to focus on, I want the case to be very recent. (The shorter time elapsed between the case update and my comments permits my remarks to (potentially) be that much more proactive!) Thus, the case I will be commenting on was last updated on August 8, 2013: “Dr. Pratima Karnik, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), engaged in research misconduct in research submitted to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), in grant application R01 AR062378.”

In this case, Dr. Karnik plagiarized in two major instances: the first one was for her NIH grant application; the second one was for her research. In her grant application, she inserted text from a NIAMS grant application that she reviewed. The second instance is slightly more complicated; specifically, she plagiarized “significant portions of text”[1] from a list of eight articles (listed in the case summary) into her own research reports! She also plagiarized from “one U.S. patent application available on the internet”[2].

For all this plagiarism, Dr. Karnik’s research is scrutinized for only two years! That is quite a short time, in my opinion, considering all the plagiarism she has done. Nevertheless, the “Voluntary Settlement Agreement” that she settled on for two years is much closer to how research ought to be performed. There are three parts to the Voluntary Settlement Agreement: (1) A plan for supervision of Dr. Karnik’s duties must be submitted to ORI for approval; (2) Any institution employing Dr. Karnik must submit a certification to ORI – with each application for funding from U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), or with each report involving PHS-supported research – that the content (of applications or report) is free of plagiarized material; and (3) Dr. Karnik must exclude herself voluntarily form serving in any advisory capacity to the PHS.

Out of the three parts, the one that stood out most to me was part (2). In addition to not allowing plagiarism, the certification(s) that each institution employing Dr. Karnik will submit for the next two years must affirm that data she provides is derived from a legitimate source (e.g., actual experiments), and that she accurately reports the “data, procedures, and methodology” sections in her application (e.g., to PHS for funding) or research reports based on PHS-supported research. For this reason, the more institutions Dr. Karnik is affiliated with, the more cumbersome[3] this process of obtaining such certification(s) will be! These requirements (i.e., of accurate reporting in Dr. Karnik’s manuscripts and obtaining data from a legitimate source) highlight that there is an ethical component to doing empirical research that cannot be overlooked. After all, it is very important to have the ability to effectively communicate and present one’s research to audiences outside of the investigator’s research field (e.g., Dermatology in Dr. Karnik’s case). And presenting empirical research[4] well to people outside of one’s specialization often comes with being prepared to answer questions about the data collection, as well as being able to provide lucid explanations of which methodology is used and why that methodology is (or was) chosen for the particular inquiry at hand.

[1]This phrase is subject to equivocation, and raises the question of how much text is “a significant portion”? Though, it is never acceptable to copy text verbatim without citing the original source.

[2]The Internet is never a safe place to store things, and should be treated with more care!

[3]notably with the increasing numbers of non-tenure-track or affiliated faculty.

[4]especially in cases where the research area makes some use of statistical methods!

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