Thoughts on Ethics Case Reports from ORI

I reviewed two cases on the Office of Research Integrity’s website. Actually, I reviewed several, but I circled back around to a couple of them for the purpose of writing this post.  In 2020 ORI found that Charles A. Downs, a former Adjunct Assistant Professor, Arizona Health Sciences Center, the University of Arizona  “engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating data included in six (6) grant applications submitted for U.S Public Health Service (PHS) funds. As punishment, the respondent agreed to have his research supervised, to have a committee appointed and a supervision plan established, to not apply for any PHS funds unless the supervision plan is submitted and approved, and to abstain from serving on any PHS board, all for four years.

In the second case Yibin Lin, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center knowingly and intentionally falsified, fabricated, and plagiarized data and text reported in the numerous published papers, which have been retracted, and manuscripts. The respondent also attempted to deceive the online publication sites bioRxiv and medRxiv, creating fictitious author names and affiliations, but not listing himself as an author. Given the extent of his misconduct, Dr. Lin agreed to exclude himself voluntarily for a period of ten (10) years beginning from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility for or involvement in US Government non-procurement programs (known as “covered transactions”). The scope of the respondent’s misconduct is surprising.

For both of these respondents, I think about the antecedents to this behavior. I believe many of us say this could not be us. But I wonder whether there is a tipping point, an incident, or an experience that catapults a researcher into these actions that inevitably will be caught. I wonder about whether they felt pressure to have a particular result, or to what extent was this driven by ego – a belief that they should have had particular results or a particular trajectory. I also wonder about how many of these situations have gone undetected because the fraud was less extensive. Research ethics reviews and peer reviews of published research are overseen and judged by human beings who all bring their own values and flaws, but the systems are lengthy and intended for researchers to be thoughtful. We should all be mindful of these types of ethics misconduct cases. At some point, it may have been that these researchers turned a corner in their mistakes and believed they were too far gone to turn back. However, at some point they were also young, hopeful scholars with potential. I hope they learn and recover from their mistakes.


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