Ethics Blog Post

As I began reviewing the recent cases of research misconduct posted on ORI’s website, there are a couple of things that stood out for me. The first thing I noticed is that the National Institute of Health (NIH) funded all of them. At first, I was surprised that I could not find any research misconduct in the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded projects in the twenty recent cases on ORI’s website. This observation got me thinking if the researchers in engineering and basic sciences are soo ethical or if there is not much value in investigating research misconduct in engineering and basic sciences. A quick search on google showed me that “ORI oversees and directs Public Health Service (PHS) research integrity activities on behalf of the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the exception of the regulatory research integrity activities of the Food and Drug Administration” [1]. Researching further on this topic revealed that the office of the inspector general (OIG) is the federal agency that oversees the research misconduct in projects funded by NSF [2]. By further researching this topic, I learned that although NIH supported four times the number of grants as NSF, NSF reviewed 2.5 times the number of research misconduct reports and that NSF’s faculty were two times more likely to be found guilty than those at NIH [3]. Lokith and Bauchwitz 2016 and Kornfeld 2019 noted that this paradox is due to OIG’s higher power than ORI and suggested reforms to aid ORI to facilitate better prosecution.

Another interesting fact that I noticed was that in more than half (eleven to be precise) of the recent twenty research misconducts were by researchers/faculties/practitioners of Indian origin. I should mention that I did not do enough research to determine when they moved to the USA or if they were born in the USA. But it doesn’t take a lot for an Indian (like myself) to recognize another person of Indian origin by their name – I hope this doesn’t qualify as racism. I’m wondering if there is a cultural aspect to this behavior. I am not sure about other cultures, but in Indian culture, there is usually a lot of pressure from family and society to “do well” and “be successful”. In the context of academia, that means rising the ranks in the university by producing more publications, funded projects, and clinical trials. As such, I think this pressure could have played a role in tempting the researchers to pursue dark alleys in research. This thought process also makes me ask, are international students, researchers, and faculties at more risk to be made a scapegoat in these research misconduct investigations? I did not find any relevant articles to evaluate this claim and therefore, would love to hear the reader’s opinion.

 

References:

[1] https://ori.hhs.gov/content/about-ori

[2] Loikith, L., & Bauchwitz, R. (2016). The Essential Need for Research Misconduct Allegation Audits. Science and engineering ethics22(4), 1027–1049. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-016-9798-6

[3] Kornfeld D. S. (2019). Research misconduct, NSF v NIH: Its nature and prevalence and the impact of their respective methods of investigation and adjudication. Accountability in research26(6), 369–378. https://doi.org/10.1080/08989621.2019.1646644

One Reply to “Ethics Blog Post”

  1. Hi Vamsi, thank you for this very interesting insight through your blog.
    Yes, I truly believe that pressure to perform well in an academic environment can be one of the factors that motivate researchers to take part in unethical research practices.
    Also, there is definitely a cultural aspect of ethical practices for example the cases of unintentional plagiarism (though unethical in any scenario) can be looked at with different severity depending on the culture surrounding the research practices.

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