February 2019


When I read the case summaries on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website (https://ori.hhs.gov/), I was shocked that so many researchers were engaged in research misconduct. Some of them made mistakes accidentally, and others’ misconducts were intentional. Regardless of their intentions, all of these people got harsh punishments. For example, Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center labeled her own blood samples as samples from 98 participants in a cancer genetics study (https://ori.hhs.gov/index.php/content/case-summary-elqutub-maria-cristina-miron). This falsified data were used in two published articles and two grant reports submitted to the National Institutes of Health. Because of this misconduct, Ms. Elqutub’s future research has to be supervised for three years. Any Public Health Service supported project that involves Ms. Elqutub has to submit a certificate to ORI and prove their data collection is valid.

Why are ethics in research so important? In my opinion, research usually has a higher impact on society. One misconduct may cost millions of dollars and even people’s life. For example, the results from her own blood sample cannot be generalized to other people. Findings from that study are not helpful to fight cancer but may kill some patients indirectly. Because of the huge responsibilities, researchers should take every effort to guarantee research Integrity.

Effective prevention of research misconduct is more critical than harsh punishments. A good way to avoid mistakes in research is to have multiple people to check the procedures and results before submitting reports. Education of ethics is also essential. In our department, we have a required seminar course called Professional Ethics and Expectations for incoming graduate students. Also, we should further promote open access and replicability of studies. For example, many journals in Applied Econometrics require authors to submit data and programming codes with their manuscripts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 comments to Ethics

  • Isil Anakok

    I think if the research misconduct was made intentionally, there must be harsh punishments. Thus, if it is suspected, ethics committee has to have a deep and detailed investigation. There have been many cases that some researchers receive grants however they do not deserve it. When we think about the importance of research in society, intentional misconduct can not be excused.

  • bbgrove

    I like your approach to dealing with ethical issues. Having multiple checks, promoting open access for replicability, and creating a culture of ethics through regular education all seem to be reasonable measure. I most like, however, your assertions about the implications of research misconduct. I heard a story on NPR this week talking about the use of unverified statistics and how these assertions can in some cases influence national policy or international funding decisions. The same cautionary tale applies to research. If we can’t trust research, how can we trust it to inform policy? Real harm can be caused through falsified research, even if there isn’t malintent.

  • Farha

    Ruoding, Great Post! I like that you shed some light on the importance of prevention in your writing. Yes, infliction of penalty is indispensable to maintain a civil society as well as putting effort to prevent such activities. I like the suggestions you mentioned and I agree that in doing so many careless & unintentional ethical violation could have been prevented.