A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
In July of this year I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in
. Part of the reason for holding this conference is the increasing amount of scientific misbehaviors. It was very interesting to hear researchers from many different universities around the world discuss the issues related to scientific misconducts and the lack of ethical standards. Singapore
It seems the pressures that come with trying to develop a research career can overtake the honest intentions of researchers. While the specific classification of misconduct varies between universities and other institutions, common labels of scientific misconduct consist of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing or performing research.
Anderson & de Vries’ article published in Nature, 435, 737-738 (9 June 2005) | doi:10.1038/435737a; titled, Scientists Behaving Badly, they report that scientific misconduct is very common in the In a survey completed by 3,600 mid-career and 4,160 early-career NIH researchers, 38% of mid-career scientists and 28% of early-career scientists admitted “sanctionable misbehaviors” in their prior three years during NIH funded research activities. Wow…around 1/3 of researchers putting their careers and reputations in jeopardy! U.S.
I can understand and appreciate the pressures of designing, being awarded and carrying out research studies. From research concept to being awarded can take a couple years or more. To date, I have been involved with about $6 million in state and federal research grants. And there are a lot of failed attempts along the way. The significant factor associated with being awarded these grants has been the grant writing team and mentorship provided by senior researchers who were willing to invest their time and expertise. Being successful at grant writing and scientific research requires working with partners who have a track record of successful research as well as a reputation of being honest with high integrity traits. There is no such thing as a lone grant writer or researcher. It takes teamwork to be successful at both!
I greatly appreciate the risks taken by research mentors. After hearing experiences from colleagues who are working with early-career researchers, it is risky work. For instance, I heard a story from a friend who is a researcher and who tries to mentor early-career researchers. This is his story. Some information within attached documents have been removed.
Daniel Parkerson a professor and researcher with a university agreed to work with a new PhD graduate, Robert Haring who was very eager and energetic to become a funded researcher. RH had an idea about a research project but said the idea had been rejected for various reasons. For instance, RH proposed the idea as a dissertation study but was rejected by his committee. RH was very passionate about his research idea because it resulted from personal experiences. RH worked for a company that needed to hire a few “extras” for a film documentary. After working there a few days, RH believed he and the other extras were mistreated. RH wanted to investigate whether other extras had similar experiences working in the film industry. So, Daniel agreed to work with RH’s idea. Because it never gained any interest anywhere prior, Daniel informed RH that the plan and project had to be significantly reworked.
RH was given a volunteer title with the university and there were some internal university grant funds available. The university’s policy required that employed academic personnel be listed as the Principal Investigator (PI) on any grants. The responsibilities of the PI are to lead the project to its successful conclusion overseeing all aspects of the study (e.g., budget issues, human subjects’ protections, research rigor, etc). It is unrealistic to expect a new PhD graduate like RH, with no past research experience, to have the expertise to ensure a successful research outcome. Although the policy was new information for RH, he said he understood why the university is reluctant to award money to new university volunteers.
Daniel took RH’s idea and started from scratch, redesigning the plan and overall research project. Although RH’s idea remained (Are extras treated differently in the workplace than other workers?), all other aspects were re-worked. After working with other scientists and taking their advice on editing and other scientific adjustments, the grant proposal was submitted and finally awarded. According to Daniel this grant was a typical team effort where many people were involved and very helpful. In fact, everyone’s work and input was the significant factor for it being awarded!
Senior researchers provided vital directions to the study’s design and research protocols. Without everyone’s help, RH’s research idea would have remained just that -- an idea -- not worthy of studying. This was a 1-year funded study. As with all or most research grants it was submitted and approved by the university’s IRB in order to protect the human subjects involved in the research.
So…back to the point about research integrity issues and the risks of mentoring early-career researchers. Before the study began RH submitted the grant’s information to a professional research conference in order to present it and discuss its findings. Now…there are some scientific misconduct issues involved with this act. First, RH did not inform any of the senior researchers or mentors, who were also involved with this study, about submitting and presenting this study to a professional research conference. Second, RH’s name was the only name listed for the presentation, indicating that the research study was solely RH’s work. Third, the presentation was copied word-for-word (except one key word change) from the grant application that the team of researchers helped create. Finally, the presentation was presented as though the study had been completed, when in fact the study had not yet begun.
(Click Bold words to view Documents: IRB approval date was May 21, 2008. RH's Conference presentation dates were May 14-17, 2008. Haring presented the study’s results a few days before the study was approved to start! The one word RH changed in the conference abstract from the grant submission is in the sentence “The overall purpose of this research project was to qualitatively investigate…” That one word change from “is” to “was” indicated that the study had been completed and deceived the conference reviewers who accepted RH’s submission).
After learning about this misbehavior, Daniel thought he would use it as a teaching moment. Daniel decided to discuss with RH the importance of research integrity and appropriate ways of working with research grant writing teams. In the research academic world, RH’s actions would clearly fall under scientific misconduct. For instance, copying text word-for-word that was created by others and presenting it as RH’s own work, is an act of plagiarism and falsification. Presenting a research study as though it has been completed, when in fact it had not begun, has misconduct concerns and IRB implications. On top of all the scientific misconduct acts and other issues, RH’s behaviors also result in burning some bridges with colleagues and universities. If you want to have longevity in the academic research field it is not smart to have the reputation of using others work as your own and taking credit where it is not due. You might end up having to be affiliated with a university outside your own community or state, where your reputation has not yet arrived!
Daniel setup a meeting and tried to provide some mentorship and teachings to RH. Daniel also provided RH with a formal written warning letter. Boy…did that mentoring attempt ever backfire!
Soon after the meeting, RH concluded that all of the materials connected with the study were his sole property and that he owned everything connected with this study. Although many senior academic researchers worked hard to get that study to a point where it became something worthy of funding, which it was not until these researchers worked on it, according to RH, everything belonged to him because he had the original “idea.” RH quickly resigned his affiliation with the university and reported that Daniel and the university stole his property and knowledge! RH emailed several of his friends, stating the Daniel and the university are frauds and thieves! You know what they say…a good defense is to go on the offensive!
Daniel now appreciates the risks of working with junior scientists when it comes to issues of dealing with academic research integrity behaviors. Daniel finds himself placed in a difficult position. Now that RH is not connected with Daniel or the university (other than RH’s regular slanderous emails) does Daniel just move forward hoping a lesson was learned and no more misconducts will happen? Or does Daniel go forward with submitting documents to the most appropriate investigative institution before anymore misconducts can happen? It would seem the best way to clear up all of RH’s allegations (e.g., Daniel and the university stole property and knowledge) is to have the most appropriate folks investigate the issue and report the results to all concerned. Daniel and the university has kept very good records.
According to Nicholas Steneck, Emeritus Professor of history at the
University of Michigan in and co-organizer of the World Conference on Research Integrity, "Integrity of research is everyone's responsibility. If you see something that you don't think is right, all professionals have a responsibility to raise their concerns." As a research professional, Daniel feels obligated and responsible to raise concerns to those who are most knowledgeable and assigned to investigate these matters. If and when Daniel pursues these matters it should be with the most appropriate institution -- not using RH’s approach of emailing community people, who have no knowledge about these subject matters. Ann Arbor
Professionals, regardless if they are researchers, social workers, or nurses will have to deal with misconducts in the workplace. These ethical matters are always the most challenging to confront. Workers are regularly faced with ethical issues that touch on both professional and personal standards.
What would you do? Would you “move on” knowing that Haring can freely make accusations against your workplace and you in an attempt to hide his own misconducts? Do you worry that RH might do some of the same acts towards others? Would your option be altered knowing that RH is currently affiliated with another out of state university and is working with them on another small grant? What would you tell Daniel to do?