Let’s Talk Ethics

Before deciding on a case to discuss, I first browsed through every case listed on the Office of Research Integrity website to get an overall sense of what types of ethical misconduct have been reported throughout the years. My initial thought was surprisingly positive because there are few cases listed, which may be a good sign that most researchers practice with integrity. Unfortunately, I found that most cases come from schools of medicine, which is concerning because medical science researchers help to inform policy by providing the public with legitimate claims. Additionally, cases with a medical component are possibly basing their samples on vulnerable populations, such as older adults or folks living with a physical or cognitive impairment. This further supports my concerns regarding dissemination of misinformation because of researchers’ lack of sensitivity for participants’ unique health risks. To clarify, life expectancy for older adults and for individuals living with certain diseases is lower compared to relatively younger and healthier individuals. If there are few options for improving one’s quality of life, a person may feel strongly inclined to participate in research that is aiming to do just that.

One specific case stood out to me and it is the claim that a researcher at a medical center in New York defrauded his sponsors and even plead guilty to negligent homicide because of his misconduct. Upon his sentencing, he also received a charge for lying on his job application when asked if he had ever been charged with a felony. The felony is unrelated to his research, but it does make me question the overall integrity of this individual. This case is one example of vulnerable populations being exploited for the sake of producing favorable research. In the end justice prevailed; this person is no longer allowed to conduct research and has been debarred from his post at the medical center in New York.

10 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Ethics

  1. Azat Nurmukhametov

    Hi Stephanie, thank you very much for sharing this.
    While reading your post, I was thinking that unfortunately, it is possible that the results of ethical misconduct in the medical field hypothetically can have more severe consequences comparing with the cases in some other fields of science. Since here the scientists deal with the health issues of the population, any false conclusions based on misinformation can hurt people’s health.
    Also, I thought about something which is called “recall bias”.
    It is well-known that different medical studies are subject to different types of bias. One of them is recall bias which usually occurs in cross-sectional studies when researchers ask respondents to recall exposure to risk factors. Theoretically it is very possible that people with some relevant medical condition (for example, cancer) will recall the relevant exposures that they had undergone (hormone replacement therapy, etc.) than people who do not have this condition. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous researchers can use some types of ethical misconduct trying to avoid problems regarding recall bias.

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  2. Gabriela Perez-Hernandez

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I wrote my blog on something similar to your blog. I looked for some other researchers that have been caught cooking data and falsification of data.

    Something that caught my eye, from those reports and for this blog, is that the majority of researches that have had some scientific misconduct are from the medical area. I wrote about two researchers who worked with stem-cells. I agree with your idea about how unfortunately is the fact of having much misconduct in life science research because the results obtained here will build important decisions in the area of human health.

    Researchers that are focused on investigations related to human beings are holding a big responsibility, and they have to be as ethical as possible.

    Reply
  3. caitlinc2

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for sharing! It’s interesting and scary that a majority of the ethical misconduct claims come from medical schools. Do you have a hypothesis as to why this might be the case? As someone who is not super familiar with medical school, I’m not really sure myself, but I wonder if there’s a greater focus on certain aspects of ethics (e.g. privacy, sharing of information) rather than the choice of treatments or falsification of data. Medical practitioners need to uphold all aspects of ethical practices to ensure all patients are receiving sufficient care.

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  4. Zak

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You bring up an interesting point by noting how many of the cases of academic dishonesty are from medical schools. I think there is perhaps some extra pressure to succeed in medical trials to obtain continued funding or try to put out new research before another researcher gets to it. I think these are things that should be emphasized during medical training. There were a few episodes of the popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy where they showed some of the doctors falsifying clinical trial data. As you mentioned, many people go into clinical trials because they are desperate for a solution to their medical problem and it’s unethical for researchers to exploit that.

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  5. Jon Catherwood-Ginn

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks so much for writing this piece. I appreciate how you foreground the risks to subjects—many of whom identify as members of vulnerable populations—over the particular details of accused researchers’ cases. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees in case of misconduct. The most egregious damage done is to subjects in these cases, not the researchers who were acting in bad faith. The specific case you profiled was pretty jaw dropping, given the flagrancy of the researchers’ offenses and disregard for its impacts. Thanks for regrounding readers in the very real, human cost of misconduct.

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  6. Sahil Dudani

    It is eye opening how you highlighted that most of the cases f misconduct occurred in the medical field and how medicine is supposed to be the most responsible field of study since it involves human lives. The case you mentioned seems to be an extreme case of research misconduct involving negligent homicide and subsequent falsification of facts. Thanks for bringing this case to light, and it feels good to know that the researcher was punished adequately in this case.

    Great Post!

    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  7. monerah

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you for sharing your thought about the research ethic. I agree with you that most of the cases of misconduct of research were in the medical fields. This makes me assured that the medical research field is well monitored even not government-supported. It is unfortunate that there are researchers looking for cases or samples for their experiment with their knowledge that could kill individuals and impact their health for a lifetime.

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  8. Katherine X Pérez Rivera

    Hi Stephanie,

    I definitely agree with you. I encounter the same issues when I browsing through the different cases. This represents a challenge and a direct threat to to human beings, specially those that are less privileged which are often a target. It is unfortunate that these type of unethical practices still remain in the medical field. This is one of the fields that directly should look for the well-being of its patients and society in general. Incurring in dishonest behaviors within science, but specially within the medical field is very concerning given the influence and service they provide to society.

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  9. Lara Dahora

    Hi Stephanie,Thanks for your post. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that a lot of the cases on the ORI website were from medical schools/centers. That certainly is concerning from the standpoint that you pointed out in your writing. I think the one consolation for me is that most of the research being done at medical centers isn’t necessarily human involved work. While that is a *small* consolation, it is at least somewhat comforting to know that most of these cases are not necessarily involving clinical trials, although I did see some of those as well. It is concerning though when talking about the human cost and even non human cost of scientific misconduct.

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  10. Natalia Varela

    Hi Stephanie,
    For what I could find, related to the fact that all the cases came from medical schools, is that ORI oversees the Public Health Service, so the main concern is to check on those situations where the overall wellbeing of the population can be at stake.
    Still, as you mentioned, the most affected subjects in these cases are vulnerable people, who are willing to participate in these experiments not being fully aware of the impact on their lives. I’m glad the guy from the example was banned from medical practice and research for good. At least some institutions work! Thanks for the post.

    Reply

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