The assignment of this blog post is a bit more explicit than the previous one – to discuss a case from the ORI website of academic misconduct. Besides two pre-2008 cases where it is less clear what occurred, every case has been of data fabrication/falsification. This seems to fall in line with a study we looked over in my department-lead ethics discussions from last semester in which scientists anonymously self-reported misconduct (Martinson et al 2005). However, none of these addressed an ethical issue I have been interested in lately – the reuse of writing/materials.
In academics, it is a violation to submit the same piece of writing for multiple grades. Likewise, it would be unethical to try to publish the exact same work in two places as a researcher. However, we regularly reuse swaths of writing for grants, and I believe it would be silly to say that you cant submit the same grant proposal reformatted to multiple potential funding sources. Everyone I’ve discussed this with, including the leader of an ethics workshop at Tech for TA training, has agreed. I’d be interested in seeing a case that sits right on the edge of acceptable to unethical. However, since the majority of these cases are on data fabrication/falsification, I’ll discuss one below.
In 2012, a professor studying genetics was found to have been using fabricated data for a decade, and the extent to which these data were used is somewhat extraordinary – 10 publications and nearly as many grant proposals. In a case such as this which spanned a decade, it would be interesting to know how the fabrication was ultimately discovered. Many of the other cases listed involve multiple publications, but are not even near the same timescale as this case. Also, the office of research integrity is run through the public health service – so all of these uncovered cases are in medical/food related research. Even if they listed their methods for discovering misconduct, would they be applicable to the sciences outside of medicine given that we don’t have, to the best of my knowledge, offices with the same function in other fields?
For an extremely interesting case of fabrication and its discovery in my field, see 1, 2, and 3. In this extremely long-term “scandal” conflicting peer research is what ultimately uncovered the misconduct. This story also includes some of the drama that arises when your study materials rather than research results are of commercial interest.