Before I got into cases, I decided to look at the ORI website, and the quarterly newsletter grabbed my attention. The March 2017 newsletter demonstrates the statistics that is very interesting to look at. ORI received 329 research misconduct cases between 2006 and 2015. 125 of these cases were closed with research misconduct findings, and no findings of research misconduct were found in the remaining (Figure 1). In fact, falsification and/or fabrication have/has the highest rate (56 out of 125 cases) among all types of misconduct within the ten-year period, 2006–2015.
Figure 1. Research Misconduct Cases, 2006–2015 (Adapted from ORI quarterly report, March 2017)
The second point that grabbed my attention in this report is the rank of respondents within 125 cases of research misconduct for a 10-year period. Figure 2 shows that majority of respondents are postdoctoral fellows and assistant professors which prompted me to pause and think about why the research misconduct cases are mostly observed among these groups???
Figure 2. Respondents in Research Misconduct Cases, 2006–2015 (Adapted from ORI quarterly report, March 2017)
I looked at the case of a post-doctoral fellow on ORI website. The case summary describes that he intuitively falsified and/or fabricated experimental data and manipulated related images by relabeling of experimental data. Based on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) assessment and ORI oversight review, it was proven that he was engaged in research misconduct in the research supported by NIH. As a result, he is under supervision for three years, and he is not allowed to work on NIH projects until his supervision plan is approved by ORI. For any publication, his current employer should submit a letter to ORI and certified that the data presented in the paper is based on actual experiments and all the procedure and methodology must be accurately reported to ORI. Furthermore, he is not allowed to serve as reviewer or committee member in any NIH committee for three years.
I think the main reason that most research misconducts are conducted by assistant professors and postdoctoral fellows stems from the stress and pressure on these groups which coming from tight competition for publication and funding, and tenure requirements. All these pressures might motivate the researchers to justify their wrong behavior and accept it as permissible. Many studies stipulate that over-focusing on the quantitative metrics of publications in tenure process or as one of the main academic job requirement may serve as an incentive for these researchers to manipulate data which in turn, dramatically reduce the quality of scientific papers. I think by removing the focus on quantitative metrics in measuring the scientific performance of postdoctoral fellows and assistant professors, their incentives towards results manipulation and research misconduct would be diminished.