GRAD 5104

GRAD 5104 – Ethics

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.


3 thoughts on “GRAD 5104 – Ethics”

  1. Dana thank you for your post, I too agree that for grants it is not necessary to change all the stuff in order to avoid academic misconduct. I believe the logic behind that can be found in the process of knowledge making. While in the class assignments and journal publication our goal is to create new knowledge, for grants it is not the purpose. While repeating an existing knowledge could be definitely categorized as an academic misconduct, reusing swaths of writing for grants does not endanger academic integrity.


  2. I do believe it is a sad thing when commercial interest comes into play. With the culture of grants and money needed to be obtained by the faculty member you begin to wonder what the fine line is ethically for each individual faculty member is when it comes to securing funding. ”

    “What’s one little number change or removal of an outlier data point? If it secures me $500,000, I promise to show true results once I have the money.” Sadly, I feel like more of these happen than we think. What’s even worse is that there are good faculty and researchers out there under commercial interest that are doing justice to the ethical standards we set. A very interesting article. Thanks for the food for thought.


    1. Thanks for your comment! I definitely recommend checking out that Martinson paper on some gross estimate of how common different types of misconduct are. It’s self reported – so might be a better estimate than just feelings on how often things occur.


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