Research Misconduct

As a PhD student and someone who's entire life is focused around research right now, I am often frustrated by the continuous analysis and iterating that comes from producing quality work. I know though that I want my work to mean something and that I need to do the due diligence whether it be in statistics, experiments, or quality assurance/ quality control and as frustrating as it is sometimes, I do enjoy it. I also continually try to remind myself that falsification, unethical research and practices hurt more than me if I were to engage in it. It hurts my professor, my family, my field and the societies relationship with science and research.

This week, looking at the Office of Research Integrity cases that come up I chose to focus on a recent case of Dr. Li Wang. She is being reported for "research misconduct by recklessly including false data" in grant applications. She did withdraw 3 of them and has been remorseful but still I wonder if her 'punishment'' is justified. For a year, Dr. Wang's  institution has to verify the validity of her published research ( I can get on board with this one), her research must be supervised through what sounds like a lot of paperwork and she cannot serve on any advisory board committees or peer review. I wish I knew how she was found guilty of these things, which, silly as it may sound, would affect the punishment I feel she deserves. If she self reported, which she may, I feel that some of these measures are a bit harsh, especially not being able to serve on any advisory boards. If she was reported, I would say she is not as remorseful as she may have lead on and that these things seem justified. Still, research integrity is a challenging topic. Research does need policing to ensure quality but I have no idea how I would report misconduct if I saw it. I wonder though who decides these punishments, is it mainly one person at their desk doing this all day or is it a committee? How do you get promoted to being the person who is ethical enough to decide if what other people did is ethical? Reading these cases I understand how a researcher may have felt pressured to include false data in a grant proposal, I get it. Research is hard, but at the end of the day you have to realize if what you are doing is right. Maybe we need to take a step back and evaluate the incentives that we place on researchers. If getting grants is what is solely rewarded, we may have created a corrupting infrastructure bound to have more of these events. 

Comments

  1. I found your post extremely interesting because (other than plagiarism) there hasn't been a cause for me to think about research misconduct. I had not idea that there was such a need for or an agency called the Office of Research Integrity. I absolutely agree with you that the drive to publish and the push to bring in grant funding puts pressure on researchers in ways that increases the impulse to falsify data. The focus should be on the quality of research. I also think finding funding from corporations can put pressure on researchers to manipulate data that benefits the funding agency. Not sure what the answer is beyond universities having more funds to house independent research projects, and we know that universities are already struggling with cuts. —Sarah Plummer

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  3. Thanks for you post. I am but a mere masters student, but I recently befriended a few PHD students in their fourth year, and hearing about their stresses is overwhelming. So to keep up the good work! Now about your post. I agree that research integrity is a complex subject. Since every person's story is different, you can never really know where they are coming from. What personal things are happening in their lives. If they are going through something hard in life. What makes people do the things they do? Stress? Pressure? Ego? All of it? Dr. Wang, while not as extreme as other cases, does still present the issue of consistency in punishment. ORI must be consistent in order to sustain their mission. Funny, my post is about how punishment on voluntary settlement agreements should be harsher. Just because you admit, doesn't make you less guilty or more remorseful. Again, like you said, at the end of the day, you need to do what is right and know that your research is yours and yours alone.

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  4. You bring up two great points. First, reporting misconduct when you see it. I would also have no idea of how to go about this if I were ever in this position. I can also imagine the immense stress that one could endure if they found out a colleague was engaging in unethical research practices.

    The other point is who gets to decide what is unethical and what the punishment should be? A lot of these cases seemed extreme and it is easy to understand why they were unethical. This case seems a little more nuanced. What data did she recklessly insert into her study? Was it a lot of data, or a few different values here and there? Did she do it on purpose, or did it just happen because of reckless and careless behavior? I would really like to know this information as well to see if the ramifications fit the misconduct.

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