The Deterrent to Scientific Misconduct: Harsh enough?

Having been immersed in scientific research for the better part of the last 6 years, I find few transgressions more egregious than the falsification of data. Scientific research, in my eyes, is fundamentally built on the foundations of honestly, transparency, and the ethical reporting of results/conclusions, regardless of hypothesis or potential backlash. Scientists enter a social contact to ethically report their finds unaltered; anything short of this not only disseminates inaccurate conclusions, but can begin to erode the public’s trust in the scientific process.

Regardless, scientific misconduct does occur and will continue to occur. External and internal pressures are numerous and can push scientist to take shortcuts that lead to the cases we read about for class. Personally, I read the case summaries on Dr. El-Remessy, Azza, and Endo Matthew. Both of these cases revolved around the perpetrator falsifying a research study. One of the cases of falsification was completed by a post-doctoral researcher while the other was completed by a graduate student, showing that this temptation is not reserved for professors or students, alone.

Since, in my opinion, the pressures that lead to academic misconduct will continue to exist (without major systematic changes), I thought it is more interesting to look at the punishment (or deterrent for future acts) each case resulted in. Both investigations levied a 3-year sentence with various requirements. Mr. Endo and Dr. El-Remessy work over this period of time requires explicit supervision and an institutional letter endorsing the validity of all disseminated work. Furthermore, both cases resulted in the inability for either individual to voluntarily serve in any advisory capacity to PHS. Essentially, both Mr. Endo and Dr. El-Remessy received an almost identical punisment for their transgressions, making it seem like this is the go to response for a first time offender (neither article makes mention of repeat offenses).

The question then becomes is the above enough of a deterrent to stave off scientific misconduct? Sadly, I feel like the answer to this is most related to the underlying consequences that the case studies fail to contextualize.

At face value the sentencing above, in my opinion, does not sound ‘too’ bad. Both Mr. Endo and Dr. El-Remessy can continue their work with the added caveat of institutional endorsement and after 3 years it seems there are no ‘lingering’ consequences. However, how hard is getting an institutional endorsement? Is it essentially a black mark on your record that prevents any institution from hiring your, essentially making the punishment a death sentence in that field? Interestingly enough, both a post-doctoral researcher and graduate student received a very similar punishment. Will the ramifications be felt as equally? Or is it this something a professor can recover from, but a student cant? The Endo case also makes no note of potential ramifications for their primarily advisors. What level of accountability should an advisor have for a student who falsifies data? I think these are the questions that need to be considered before we can really assess whether or not the punishment is harsh enough, Then again, can you have a punishment harsh enough for one of the worse actions a scientists can conduct?

Leave a Reply