When Postdocs engage into research misconduct !

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.

The two higher education institutions that I chose for this blog post are Michigan State University and North Carolina University (NCSU).  My choice for Michigan State University (MSU) was pretty simple since I received my Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics there in August 2016. My second choice was a request by one of my close friends schooling at NCSU and to whom I talked about this assignment.

Both schools are public land-grant universities located in the State of Michigan and North-Carolina (U.S.) respectively. As can been seen below, MSU’s mission statement revolves around three pillars: education, research, and outreach. On the other hand, although NCSU mission statement didn’t specifically use those same three words, it is clearly shown that it shares many similarities with MSU’s statement.

I found MSU’s mission statement to be a little more detailed and easier to comprehend. First, by using bullets points, MSU’s mission statement clearly showed the different areas that are key to their mission.  On the other hand, NCSU’s mission statement, which is a one-paragraph text is a little more difficult to dissect.  In terms of their similarities, both statements employ the term research, but in a slightly different way. Also, while MSU clearly talks about providing education to specific groups of students, NCSU uses the term “teach”, which as we all know is closely related to students. Third, both schools express in their respective statement, their desire to induce technological or economic development and to transform lives at home and around the world.

It is worth noting that Virginia Tech’s (which is also a public land-grant university) mission statement is centered around the same values: education, research, and outreach. Same applies to other schools that are neither public, nor land-grant universities (e.g. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).

It is my first time taking a closer look at schools mission statements, and I really enjoyed reading and analyzing them. I was also genuinely impressed by how articulate and they were.

NB: The mission statements discussed are shown below and were copied from their school’s website. See link below each statement.

 

Michigan State University Mission Statement

“As a public, research-intensive, land-grant university funded in part by the state of Michigan, our mission is to advance knowledge and transform lives by:

  • providing outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and professional education to promising, qualified students in order to prepare them to contribute fully to society as globally engaged citizen leaders
  • conducting research of the highest caliber that seeks to answer questions and create solutions in order to expand human understanding and make a positive difference, both locally and globally
  • advancing outreach, engagement, and economic development activities that are innovative, research-driven, and lead to a better quality of life for individuals and communities, at home and around the world

http://president.msu.edu/advancing-msu/msu-mission-statement.html

 

North Carolina State University Mission Statement

“As a research-extensive land-grant university, North Carolina State University is dedicated to excellent teaching, the creation and application of knowledge, and engagement with public and private partners. By uniting our strength in science and technology with a commitment to excellence in a comprehensive range of disciplines, NC State promotes an integrated approach to problem solving that transforms lives and provides leadership for social, economic, and technological development across North Carolina and around the world”.

https://oirp.ncsu.edu/facts-figures/the-basics/university-mission/