When I hear about a fellow researcher being investigated by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) I immediately want to take the researcher’s side. Maybe it was an accident, maybe his misuse of data was simply due to a mental slip. This could be related to my love of the underdog, or wanting to see the best in people, or even my lack of faith in the higher ups of the world. Sadly, however, in the case of Dr. Igor Dzhura, there seems to be little question as to his deceit.
Dr. Dzhura was a postdoc in Dr. Mark Anderson’s lab at Vanderbilt University when he allegedly falsified over 70 images in 6 different publications, among other falsifications. And these were not just small pubs with low readerships, according to Google Scholar these papers had over 700 citations! This leads me to an obvious question: “wtf Dzhura?”
How do you justify such mass falsification? And more so, how does one come to rely on falsification to such a degree? It would seem that Dr. Dzhura’s career, and to some extent the careers of his lab mates, including his advisor Dr. Anderson, was built upon these papers. Did Dzhura feel so much pressure to impress his superiors and/or potential employers that he threw his morals out the window? Perhaps he lied on only a few figures, say in his first publication (Calmodulin kinase… bla bla bla http://www.nature.com/ncb/journal/v2/n3/abs/ncb0300_173.html) which is the highest cited by far, with around 250 citations, and found himself building the rest of his research upon this, seemingly small, lie. I could dig into his papers and see how influential those figures were for his future work but that would take a great deal of time, and I get paid little enough for my time as it is.
Or maybe Dzhura simply has no morals, or doesn’t care whether his research is founded in reality. The question of why someone would falsify data to such a degree will always be a fascinating conundrum, but even more surprising is the lack of direct punishment in a situation like this. Once a researcher is outed as having falsified data they face restrictions which can range to being banned from funding sources for a certain amount of time (in Dzhura’s case, 3 years), firing or, in some very extreme situations, imprisonment. But the latter is very rarely sought after, with Academia frequently imposing most if not all of the punishments. It is true that Dzhura’s career may be over, and at the least he will not be a superstar in the science world. He was fired from Novartis, the company he was working at when this all came to light, and will have to retract the 6 publications in question, which basically removes the entire foundation of his career.
Still, I would not be surprised if Dzhura finds work elsewhere, and maybe he should, he does have a family to help support. But it is hard as a scientist to hear about something like this and not expect legal action. Falsification of data, on any scale, removes the true reason that we all entered science in the first place, curiosity. There is nothing to be learned from imposing your desires on your findings, and instead of pushing science forward it shakes the public, and fellow scientists’, faith in peer reviewed research. Much like Anakin threw the force into chaos instead of bringing balance. God I hope these next three movies are worthwhile.