While browsing through the different research misconduct cases on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, one specifically caught my attention. The case involved a former postdoctoral fellow (Dr. Kenneth Walker) at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh (UP), who falsified and/or fabricated data for the submission of a manuscript and application to grants. I decided to blog about this specific case because this is the first that I have come across a misconduct case involving a postdoc.
According to the ORI, after the misconduct was uncovered, the postdoctoral fellow entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement (Agreement) and has voluntarily agreed to have his research supervised for three years, and that any institution that wishes to hire him should submit certification to ORI that the data provided by the respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise. Dr. Walker has also agreed to exclude himself from serving in any advisory capacity to Public Health Service (PHS).
Other than ruining his reputation, the incident might have also destroyed Dr. Walker’s career. Although that wasn’t mentioned in the ORI report, Dr. Walker will never be the same scientist again. He and his family might have probably been affected mentally and psychologically. Further, postdocs are transitional positions, and it will be very hard for him to get hired somewhere else because no recruiters will want to hire someone with such degrading previous records, which means that his livelihood could also be affected.
Being from social science, and particularly Applied Economics, I have heard and read many similar cases. In most of those cases, researchers had falsified data or had forged results just to show that their studies had led to outstanding results so readers can give them credit for that. However, this should never be the case. As researchers, we owe our audience the responsibility of reporting whatever results our research has produced, be it what we expect or not. I will conclude by saying that we never hope to see or read about these kinds of incidents in the scientific community. However, these ORI cases are there to remind us of the twist our career can take if we ever engage in such activities.