ORI Findings of Misconduct in Science

Notice is hereby given that ORI and the Assistant Secretary for Health have taken final action in the following case:

Based on the report of an inquiry into admitted fabrication of data conducted by the Duke University Medical Center and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, the U.S. PHS found that Hiwot A. Woreta, former medical student, DUMC, engaged in research misconduct while supported by grant P30 DK034987.

Specifically, PHS found that Ms. Woreta engaged in research misconduct by fabricating data included in Figure 2 of her third year Medical School Thesis at DUMC. These data were also included in a poster presented during the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society symposium in May 2004.

13 Comments »

  1. PhysioProf said

    I find it interesting that ORI involved itself in a case of research misconduct that involving data that was never published in a peer-reviewed journal and never included in a grant application to NIH.

    I wonder how this dumbass got caught.

    Speaking of getting caught, my suspicion is that if you are reasonably clever in your fabrications and don’t publish in a very hot area of research, you can probably eke out an entire career based on fake data. I suspect that the people who get caught are either (1) very stupid in the nature of their fraud (like rescaling a control ephys trace from the same paper and presenting it as an experimental) and/or (2) working in area that is so hot that dozens of labs will be scrutinizing data with a fine tooth comb and attempting to replicate it (like human stem cells).

    A falsified career such as that pulled off by Hans Werner Gottinger

  2. whimple said

    It all seems weak to me. Reading the full text:

    (1) To exclude herself from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including but not limited to service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as consultant; and

    who cares?

    (2) That any institution that submits an application for PHS support for a research project on which the Respondent’s participation is proposed or which uses the Respondent in any capacity on PHS supported research, or that submits a report of PHS-funded research in which the Respondent is involved, must concurrently submit a plan for supervision of the Respondent’s duties to the funding agency for approval. The supervisory plan must be designed to ensure the scientific integrity of the Respondent’s research contribution. Respondent agreed to ensure that a copy of the supervisory plan is also submitted to ORI by the institution. Respondent agreed that she will not participate in any PHS-supported research until such a supervisory plan is submitted to ORI.

    it wouldn’t actually be unreasonable in today’s climate to require this of EVERYBODY.

    I wonder what she is going to do now? I also wonder, just how guilty she really is. Did she just spontaneously go and make up some data for figure 2 of a poster she gave, as the ORI claims? Did her advisor (not named, presumably not censured in any way) pressure the crap out of her to “get the right answer”? To me the whole thing smells like a railroad-job of some disposable under-pion. Where is the advisorial responsibility? Where is the institutional responsibility? Can ORI and the scientific community really trust anything that comes out of the environment (lab, department and university) that lead to this case? I’d bet that Woreta is just the tip of this potential iceberg of scientific rottenness, but hang her out to dry and smile as if everything’s just fine…

  3. drugmonkey said

    could be a case of an over-sensitized university or PI, no? it would be a good move for any university that had a (prior) case of serious fraud to take any subsequent cases to the n’th degree. or the presence of an SRivlin type on campus…

    agree with PhysioP that this is odd though. In most cases where an ORI finding is published there is a LOOOOONG track record of multiple fakeries or multiple uses of the same fakery…kinda like knocking over the local branch bank or QuickiMart, it is only the 7th hit that gets you caught.

    whimple, i want to know more backstory too. the situation with which I am familiar that tends to have some very suspiciously successful postdocs is one in which the PI is fully guilty of creating a climate, rewarding “the right” result and ignoring evidence of faking. when i see the peon being nailed, I wonder about the contingencies at play.

  4. PhysioProf said

    “SRivlin type”

    You’ve referred to this Rivlin individual before. Who is he or she?

  5. writedit said

    Actually, this notice in all likelihood simply reflects a research misconduct policy that works. Someone saw the poster (or read the thesis), reported suspicions of fraud to a Duke’s research integrity officer (RIO, though I see they call them Misconduct Review Officers or MROs), who operates independently of the sort of higher up who might want to avoid bad press and wrap the case up with some internal handslapping (whether for such a minor infraction as is reported here or something really embarrassing). The RIO is obligated to report all substantiated allegations of misconduct to ORI if PHS funds are involved. Some institutions place such reporting authority (& other aspects of the process, such as securing/retaining evidence & reports) with the dean/vp for research/provost/other senior administration (“deciding official”) and less with the RIO, which likely cuts down on the amount of reporting to ORI. ORI prefers to see the RIO having a stronger role, as evidenced in their suggested policy & procedure template for an institutional policy on handling allegations of scientific-academic-research-scholarly misconduct. And it could be that more fall-out from this initial report will be forthcoming if there truly is more to the story.

    Specific to this case, Duke is one of the inaugural CTSA consortium sites, and one of the cores in each of these monsters is devoted to ethics. With the burdensome reporting and extra scrutiny that goes along with these awards, more misconduct might come to light at CTSA sites. We’ll see.

  6. drugmonkey said

    SRivlin is a frequent commenter over at AdvEthSci, click on the ethics tags and he’ll turn up in the comments. He was involved in an ethics case where the guy apparently got away with it. He’s pissed, wrote a book about it, takes an absolutest finger-shaking approach to science ethics. it got a little heated in the comments after this post. Here, I was referring to the type of individual who, for whatever historical reasons, is willing to go to the mat on an issue that most people would not. in this specific case it might be the decision, “just kick her out of the program” versus “let’s bring in the ORI feds and set an Example”.

  7. PhysioProf said

    Ah, now I remember. I actually posted in that thread.

    You know, one of the things I have always found very suspicious is when grad students and post-docs accuse their mentors of “stealing” their ideas.

    If you work in my lab, under my mentorship, in the intellectual environment that I have created and nurtured, relying on resources that I have obtained, then any ideas you create in my lab belong to us jointly. So long as I do not misrepresent the origin of those ideas, and give credit when appropriate, then from a legal and ethical standpoint I can do whatever I want with them. I do not need your “permission”, for example, to write grant applications or publications based on those ideas, nor to build upon those ideas with the participation of other scientists, either within my lab in or in other labs.

    Conversely, you also have the legal and ethical right to do whatever you want with those ideas once you leave my lab. As a practical matter, of course, there are many additional considerations that come into play for both mentor and trainee in deciding how to handle jointly developed ideas once the mentorship relationship ends. And under good circumstances, those decisions are made in ways that ultimately benefit both parties to the relationship.

    But the idea that a mentor could “steal” a trainee’s ideas is just impossible by definition, as one cannot “steal” that which he already owns, even if jointly. Students or post-docs who accuse their mentors of “stealing” their ideas are, in my opinion, deluded about the nature of the mentorship relationship.

    (I am not saying this has anything to do with the “Rivlin” situation. I’m just making a related point.)

  8. whimple said

    Usually it’s all good, but it’s what happens on the fringes that causes problems. Suppose, hypothetically, the PI irrationally (we stipulate to the irrationality) decides to stop funding (i.e. throw out) a fourth-year grad student, give the project they were working on (note: not “their project”) to a post-doc and write it up with the student buried way down the author line, instead of as first author. The student’s committee figures they don’t have a dog in this fight and that there’s no upside to intevention, and simply stays out of the way. What (if any) is the student’s redress? The student is entitled to appropriate academic credit for their work… what happens when the PI fails to deliver this credit?

  9. PhysioProf said

    That kind of scenario is not what I’m talking about, as should have been clear from my comment:

    “So long as I do not misrepresent the origin of those ideas, and give credit when appropriate, then from a legal and ethical standpoint I can do whatever I want with them.”

  10. drugmonkey said

    oooooh, this is a good one, very rich vein indeed. at root, I think, is a very fundamental misunderstanding that is quite common, namely that our brilliant ideas are unique. understandable really since we formally credit the supposed “first observation” so highly, we train for “novel” work. and let’s face it, the type of people that go into grad school tend to come to the realization they are not the smartest person in the room relatively late in life.
    the problem comes in when junior scientists don’t seem to realize that 1) there are a LOT of very smart people in their field and 2) someone else likely had that brilliant idea too and 3) what really matters is who is able to publish a good study.
    If you don’t have the resources, if you don’t have the time, if you don’t work fast/hard enough…well, you might have had the idea first or best but you still lose.

    the other problem is based on sheer laziness and the limited capacity of the human brain. that is, our tendency to assign credit for a body of work to the lab head. we all do it, even when we were lowly trainees pissed about people assuming our PI was really pulling our strings…

    Very nice, drugmonkey. You get a gold star for capturing the concept of Eureka ownership (or lack thereof) so succinctly & effectively. – writedit

  11. PhysioProf said

    “that is, our tendency to assign credit for a body of work to the lab head.”

    Absent affirmative information to the contrary, it makes perfect sense to assume this. If a trainee really is any good, she will get her credit by getting a job and moving on to independent glory. And if the lab head was just a bystander riding the coattails of a brilliant trainee, her glory will rapidly peter out once the trainee moves on. As a default assumption, there is no downside to assuming the lab head is the motive intellectual force.

  12. drugmonkey said

    Unless of course the PI is riding a reputation, deserved or not, to acquire a continual series of one or more brilliant trainees at a time.

    Unless the “really good” trainee experiences the typical difficulty in acquiring a job, starting a lab, getting a grant, etc while the old PI is beavering away with “her” model, using his army of techs and piles of grant money to firmly establish the appearance that it was really “his” idea…when it was not.

    Unless people on the outside really have no idea who came up with the critical ideas, don’t have any good way to judge and fall into the typical trap of assuming the PI must have been the motive force.

    The “downside” ? Well one downside would be an unfavorable grant review of a brilliant young scientist because you aren’t really sure it was all her work or her seminal contribution to that key paper. Another downside would be continuing to lard the grant funds on a PI who appears brilliant but is really just a circular argument, the result of which is more postdocs getting exploited and fewer deserving young investigators launching careers.

  13. […] here., here, and especially relevant here) and on Medical Writing, Editing and Grantsmanship (here, here, here). Click the relevant post categories on each site because they each have plenty more on […]

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