In preparation for tonight’s class, I have been reading through materials on research integrity and have to say, the whole topic saddens me. I like to consider myself a pretty honest guy and like to think that I have the integrity to weather my future career without these types of problems, but… Based on my reading, there will be challenges.
I considered three categories of reading. First, the case studies of who did what and what happened to them. It was interesting (and dovetailed with the recent conflict of interest course I took as part of my own grant) but I was somewhat disappointed in the results of the cases. In a number of instances, the punishment from the government merely limited the ability of a particular researcher to do additional research for the government. Now, they don’t discuss what other steps were taken by the institutions involved, so I am sure that a number of careers were wrecked in these cases, but the government seems a little lenient to my naive and not-yet-in-the-grind-of-research-academe eyes.
The second category were the case studies that did not result in action taken by the government. The majority essentially said “the institution handled it and we stayed out of it”. I can stand behind institutions having a responsibility to self-police their researchers, but in those instances where misconduct was found, shouldn’t the government have taken action? There was one particular case I liked that was very different than the falsifying data majority where a grant proposer mis-represented his doctoral degree as an M.D. rather than the PhD he actually had. The conclusion was that though the letters were different, his qualifications were appropriate so there was no misconduct. Hmmm… I guess we can just make up any letters we want?
So, given those readings, I was getting a pretty bleak picture of research institutions. The pressure to produce, and publish, was driving intelligent researchers to cheat. I thought about how I would blog on this subject and really wanted to focus less on the cheaters and more on the heroes. People like the engineer who pro-actively pointed out a design flaw on the Citibank building in New York that, though did not violate building codes, did have the potential to cause major problems. So I searched for case studies on whistleblowers. You know, the people who stand up for what’s right. I came up with a news article from Kentucky: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/12/09/2437270/whistle-blower-in-uk-research.html
For those who don’t want to read it, the summary is that a researcher found his boss to have falsified grant proposals, claiming to have used resources the university didn’t actually have. The fallout seemed to be a lot of “he said he said” back and forth and the result is that the “cheater” is now employed as a high school teacher (with a recommendation letter from someone higher up at the university) and the “hero” was dismissed from the institution and can’t get a job.
So I want to enter a profession, where at least in some cases, the pressure to produce is so high that people cheat and in some of those cases, the cheater prospers (to an extent) and the person who did the right thing loses all. That, my colleagues, is just sad.