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Plea Bargains in Research?

ORI Case Summary: Andrew Aprikyan

This article reports on the case of Dr. Andrew Aprikyan, of the University of Washington. There was found to be a “preponderance” of evidence that he engaged in research misconduct in research that was supported by the National Cancer Institute of Health, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Dr. Aprikyan was found by ORI to have falsified and/or fabricated results in numerous publications and grants.

It also reports on the consequences of this research misconduct, well, sort of. A Settlement Agreement was entered, in which Dr. Aprikyan denied the findings of the ORI, but entered into the Agreement to not contest the findings (which would be expensive and stressful), and agreed to not appeal the findings. There are additional details on restrictions that the agreement places on Aprikyan, such as being supervised while conducting research.

To be honest, I’m not really sure about how I feel about situations like this in the research world. I can only liken it to a criminal case: ORI found enough evidence to make the claim that results were falsified and/or fabricated. The “defendant” basically entered a plea of “no contest” to end whatever sort of dispute this was in; not saying they were “guilty,” but not fighting to prove their innocence anymore. And then the defendant was rehabilitated under the system’s watchful eye.

I’m ambivalent about this whole thing. Where do we draw the lines? When is research misconduct something that gets you removed from the system, and when does it get you what amounts to a plea bargain? If, as researchers, we need to promote the integrity of our research, how can someone bounce back from charges like this? Should they?

For more details on this case summary, please follow this link: http://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-aprikyan-andrew

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