Ethics: How Informal Research Communication Matters Too

Before choosing a case summary to focus on, I browsed through the majority of them, making sure to read through a few cases from each year. There were two themes that caught my eye in relation to the ORI case summaries as a whole. The first thing I noticed was that most of the cases stemmed from disciplines of human medicine. As medical school and medical research can be very strenuous and competitive, I wonder if this type of environment contributed to some of these situations. The second thing I picked up on was that many of the cases were related to the manipulation of data: changing the number of participants, manipulating graphs, removing certain subjects, etc.

One question that I did have while browsing through the case summaries was about the different roles of responsibility within research. If a graduate student knowingly manipulated data, would the Principal Investigator (PI) also be held accountable if he/she knew about the manipulation of data? It looks like most of the case summaries are specific to those with full time positions rather than the graduate students themselves.

I chose to go into more detail about the case summary of Brandi Lyn Blaylock. This was one of the cases where the individual was actually a former graduate student at Wake Forest’s School of Medicine (1). This one was of interest to me because unlike many of the other cases, it mentioned ways in which research was falsified/fabricated in outlets other than publications. Brandi Blaylock falsified or fabricated data that was used in poster presentations, at lab meetings, and during grant updates (1). Falsified/fabricated data was presented that implied that monkeys responded to specific compounds when these compounds were not administered via the protocol (1). The repercussions following the misconduct included supervision of research duties, future institutions of employment submitting resources in conjunction with the respondent, and exclusion of serving in PHS leadership roles (1).

I was a bit surprised that poster presentations were included in this and even more surprised that lab meetings and grant updates were named. From my personal experience, lab meetings and grant updates serve more as a verbal means of communicating research rather than by means of writing. This case summary is a good reminder for us as graduate students that we can (and should) be held accountable for informal means of communicating research in addition to formal publication.


2 Replies to “Ethics: How Informal Research Communication Matters Too”

  1. Seems like once one lie is told, more would have to follow to paint a complete picture. A number of cases revealed data falsification on more than one publication for one particular research topic; on an informal level, that could potentially translate to intentionally deceiving one’s colleagues/audience through presentations and reports.

    1. That is a good point Zhanyu. It seems like some of these cases may have stemmed from a small lie that progressed into something much larger. I do think there are steps that programs and advisors can take to help prevent these types of issues from arising -not in any way defending the individuals in these cases, however I do think that there are ways to minimize events such as these. I believe a department can intervene by creating clear deadlines to hold all graduate students accountable for reaching appropriate checkpoints in a timely manner. Sometimes I feel like students wait until last minute and then have a sort of freak out which could lead to these types of lies.

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