ORI Findings of Scientific Misconduct

An MD-PhD Student (no longer part of the PhD program). Sigh.

Notice is hereby given that the Office of Research Integrity and the Assistant Secretary for Health have taken final action in the following case:

Kartik Prabhakaran, University of Pittsburgh: Based on the report of an inquiry conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, extensive oral and written admissions by the Respondent, and additional analysis conducted by the Office of Research Integrity during its oversight review, the U.S. Public Health Service found that Mr. Kartik Prabhakaran, former graduate student in the joint M.D./Ph.D. program at UP, engaged in research misconduct while supported by grant F30NS50905 and grants R01EY005945, P30EY008098, and R01EY015291.

Specifically, Mr. Prabhakaran falsified and fabricated data that was included in a PowerPoint presentation and in a paper published in Immunity (Immunity 23:515-525, November 2005). Mr. Prabhakaran’s research misconduct occurred while he was a student in the M.D./Ph.D. program for UP’s School of Medicine. He is no longer in UP’s Ph.D. program but is still enrolled in its M.D. program in the School of Medicine. The Immunity publication has been retracted (Immunity 24:657, May 2006).


  1. apparently said

    MDs aren’t required to have integrity or ethics? Mental note: check that my Dr. did not get his degree from UP.
    MDs get significantly better training in ethics than PhDs (who are encouraged but not necessarily required unless receiving federal funding to complete a perfunctory 1-credit course or perhaps Web modules). Training docs is a one-on-one, takes a village, hands-on process emphasizing do no harm rather than do whatever it takes to get the damn grant. Conversely, most grad students are left to their own devices (with oversight of experimental technique by their mentor) and pressured to produce publishable data through which they can earn their degree and secure independent grant funding. The PhD part of an MD-PhD program is completed first (or generally so, to the best of my knowledge), and perhaps the order should be reversed so the humanism is instilled at the outset. In any case, given that MD-PhD matriculants are hot to do research rather than treat patients, an avenue now roadblocked for Mr. Prabhakaran, one wonders if he will pursue the MD degree even if the option remains open. – writedit

  2. drugmonkey said

    recent post on ethics training
    over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, for additional on this…
    The MD/PhD programs with which I am familiar do first year med, then to the doctoral work and then back to med to finish up. dunno when the ethics barrage hits. order may vary from program to program I’d think.

    I think this is the standard operating procedure for most if not all MD-PhD programs. The first year of med school is a massive sleep deprivation-memorization experiment … the communal outside-the-classroom training when the real-world ethics is emphasized comes in the latter 3 years (after completion of the PhD for the MD-PhDers). Most med schools now offer a course in humanism and patient empathy in the first year as well, but book learning & play acting are a meager substitute for mentored real-life experiences in the clinic. Plus, while PhDs are desperate for specific results for papers and grants and P&T, MDs work for the best outcome recognizing, reluctantly, that variables out of their control may produce less than desirable results … although, malpractice threats and third-party payor pressure to reduce costs & limit care impose pressures of their own. – writedit

  3. drugmonkey said

    writedit: funny but there is at least a minor trend, if not an outright effect, for PhD scientists to sneer a bit at MD and MD/PhD scientists as being more likely to be engaged in dubious science practices. to be more interested in the hot story/pub than in the underlying science. a broad brush obviously since the fraction of fakers and hot labs respectively is small. nevertheless you might want to consider whether what is more important are the personality characteristics of those seeking a MD versus any conceivable ethics training process…
    it would be very interesting to break down some of these retraction stats by the degree of the PI heading the lab…
    I agree that MD scientists tend to be more eager to jump on tenuous results and to be less concerned with the integrity of the research process itself (both in terms of ethics & sound scientific method). The sort of proposals they send my way bear the trend you cite out. My original comment was in response to the earlier suggestion that MDs don’t get ethics training, which might in turn make their clinical activities suspect … they do in spades with regard to patient care. But indeed, their eagerness to find that ground-breaking, headline-grabbing cure leads to all sorts of research mischief, particularly in the realm of conflict of interest. – writedit

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