In 2017, Dr. Brandi M Baughman was conducting research with the National Institutes of Health. An Office of Research Integrity (ORI) case summary states that Dr. Baughman admitted to committing research misconduct while working on a project supported by a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant.
The ORI report states that she falsified data 11 times within the research.
This academic retracted her 2016 paper and agreed to be supervised for 3 years and to avoid serving on the U.S. Public Health Service board, committee, review committee or as a consultant for the same number of years.
I was drawn to this case because I immediately noticed Dr. Baughman was also listed at a respondent in a 2018 case.
The most recent case, which notes her affiliation as a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Recovery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, states that she again participated in research misconduct.
In the 2018 case, the ORI found she renamed and reused images from an unrelated experiment from 2013.
What is most striking to me about this case is the depth of misconduct. So often I think of misconduct as plagiarism, which can happen so easily by accident — forgetting to use quotation marks or using a phrase without realizing it came from one of your many readings. I’m not excusing plagiarism, but I have so many texts at play and work from so many notes, I could understand how it might happen, especially from someone who is disorganized.
But the Baughman case involves purposely skewing scientific findings and using old images as if they are part of a new study. This is an obvious case of knowing and purposefully doing something unethical.
I’m also struck by the fact that this occurred while Baughman was conducting research for the federal government and was being supported by a number of government grants. It is unclear how the misconduct was discovered, but I hope government funding agencies have staff that can provide oversight to uncover this misconduct. It is frustrating that, not only does her research greatly impact the public’s health, she was misusing public funds. It is upsetting in ways that seem more diabolical because public health is on the line.
I also find it fascinating that even though Dr. Baughman was exposed, she went on to serve as a post doctoral fellow at UNC Chapel Hill, a university recovering from its own controversy over alleged bogus or fake classes offered by the African and Afro-American Studies department to benefit student athletes.
To what extent should professors who commit some kind of academic misconduct or fraud connected to their research be allowed to continue to teach and publish? Should the ramifications be more strict? Why would a university knowingly hire someone with a track record of misconduct?