Archive for Biomedical Research Ethics

Findings of Research Misconduct

Two rather different cases … Read the rest of this entry »

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Findings of Research Misconduct

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case: Read the rest of this entry »

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Findings of Research Misconduct

Notice the unusual notice for this decade-long case … additional details at Retraction Watch, “including [via the Seattle Times] Aprikyan’s own account that a technician working with him at one point wrote research notes on “approximately 30 paper towels,” and the notes were never transcribed.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Findings of Research Misconduct

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case: Read the rest of this entry »

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Findings of Research Misconduct

Another dual billing … Read the rest of this entry »

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Opaque Retraction Notices Hiding Growing Culture of Misconduct Incentivized by Academic Career Pressures? (kudos to PNAS paper & Retraction Watch)

Given recent discussions with authors being asked to sign opaque retraction notices (and no explanation even to them as to why the paper must be retracted – and no negotiation on rewording the notice to clear uninvolved/uninformed authors of guilt by association), this PNAS paper by Fang, Steen and Casadevall could not be more timely … and this research could not be more important to the scientific community as a whole:

A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3%of retractionswere attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientic articles retracted because of fraud has increased since 1975. Retractions exhibit distinctive temporal and geographic patterns that may reveal underlying causes.

Not surprisingly, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky – on whom the PNAS authors rely heavily – run with this theme at Retraction Watch:

It’s now clear that the reason misconduct seemed to play a smaller role in retractions, according to previous studies, is that so many notices said nothing about why a paper was retracted. If scientific journals are as interested in correcting the literature as they’d like us to think they are, and want us to believe they’re transparent, the ones that fail to include that information need to take a lesson from those that do.

… The question, of course, is, how common is scientific misconduct? The simple but unsatisfying answer is that we don’t know, certainly not based on this study, because it’s only of retractions. Some of the best data we have comes from a 2009 paper in PLoS ONE by Daniele Fanelli. In it, Fanelli does his own survey, and combines findings from other surveys.

In other words, 2% of scientists admit to having committed misconduct, but almost three-quarters say their colleagues have been involved in “questionable research practices.” But those may be low figures.

As the authors of the new PNAS study point out, all we can say for sure, based on their findings, is that misconduct plays more of a role in retractions than we thought it did. But we think they make a good argument for why retractions may be the canary in a coal mine when it comes to fraud …

Nature concludes with a discussion of another Retraction Watch theme, a transparency index for journals:

Ivan Oransky, a New York-based journalist and co-founder of Retraction Watch, suggests setting up a ‘transparency index’ for journals, to rank them on criteria such as the clarity of their retraction notices. The idea, which he says he would be keen to work on, could provide a much-needed incentive for journals to improve their performance in this area. Data from the current study could also serve as a basis for a retractions database to help scientists avoid wasting time trying to replicate or build on retracted work, he adds.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea, but I have concerns about how such a database could be properly maintained and updated,” says Fang. “Our study is merely a snapshot. Creating an accurate, centralized database that could be used as an ongoing resource would be a considerable undertaking.”

Science starts off featuring the number of months between publication and retraction by cause but does not duck its role in the top ten retractors list:

Science has the dubious distinction of being ranked first for the number of articles retracted, 70, just edging out PNAS, which comes second with 69. Thirty-two of Science‘s retractions were due to fraud or suspected fraud, and 37 to error. These days, “the value of the work is determined by where it is published,” Casadevall says. Last year, he and Fang devised a “retraction index” to show that journals with relatively high impact factors, such as Science, Nature, and Cell, had a higher rate of retractions.

Apart from the question of how pervasive is misconduct in science today, The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights the implications in terms of pressures to publish for academic promotion and grant funding:

“Right now we’re incentivizing a lot of behavior that’s not actually constructive to science,” Dr. Fang said.

… For Dr. Fang, the amount of misconduct in high-profile journals is a clear sign that researchers are facing far too much pressure from statistical measures such as publication rates and impact factors when seeking job promotions and grant money.

Hopefully coverage in the New York Times and other media outlets will not disillusion the public nor lessen the enthusiasm of Congress to support scientific research …

Dr. Casadevall disagreed. “It convinces me more that we have a problem in science,” he said.

While the fraudulent papers may be relatively few, he went on, their rapid increase is a sign of a winner-take-all culture in which getting a paper published in a major journal can be the difference between heading a lab and facing unemployment. “Some fraction of people are starting to cheat,” he said.

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Findings of Research Misconduct

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case:

Based on an inquiry conducted and written admission obtained by the University of Pittsburgh and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Ms. Marija Manojlovic, former graduate student, Department of Chemistry, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by P50GM067082, P01CA078039, U54MH074411, and R01AI033506.

ORI found that the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and fabricating the synthesis and spectral data that were included in one poster presentation and in one pre-submission draft of a paper to be submitted for publication.

Specifically, ORI found that the Respondent knowingly falsified and fabricated the synthesis and characterization, largely in the form of manipulated 1H- and 13C-NMR spectral data, for 5 intermediate steps and the final product, 9-desmethylpleurotin, and presented these false results in a poster, “Efforts Towards the Total Synthesis of Pleurotin,’ presented at the 2011 National Organic Symposium, and in a manuscript, “Total Synthesis of 9-desmethylpleurotin,’ prepared for submission to Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Ms. Manojlovic has voluntarily agreed for a period of 3 years, beginning on September 26, 2011:

(1) To have her US PHS-supported research supervised; Respondent agreed that prior to the submission of an application for PHS support for a research project on which her participation is proposed and prior to her participation in any capacity on PHS-supported research, she shall ensure that a plan for supervision of her duties is submitted to ORI for approval; the supervision plan must be designed to ensure the scientific integrity of her research contribution; Respondent agreed that she shall not participate in any PHS-supported research until such a supervision plan is submitted to and approved by ORI; Respondent agreed to maintain responsibility for compliance with the agreed upon supervision plan;

(2) That any institution employing her shall submit, in conjunction with each application for PHS funds, or report, manuscript, or abstract involving PHS-supported research in which she is involved, a certification to ORI that the data provided by Respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise legitimately derived and that the data, procedures, and methodology are accurately reported in the application, report, manuscript, or abstract; and

(3) 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 a consultant.

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Findings of Research Misconduct x2

My least favorite scenario for my least favorite type of post … as reported last year in Nature and again on Nature’s Great Beyond blog

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case:

Based on the findings of an investigation by UMich and additional analysis conducted by ORI, ORI found that Vipul Bhrigu, PhD, former postdoctoral fellow, Department of Internal Medicine, engaged in research misconduct in research funded by R01CA098730-05.

Specifically, ORI found that the Respondent knowingly and intentionally tampered with research materials related to 5 immunoprecipitation/Western blot experiments and switched the labels on 4 cell culture dishes for cells used in the same type of experiments to cause false results to be reported in the research record. ORI also found that the Respondent tampered with laboratory research materials by adding ethanol to his colleague’s cell culture media, with the deliberate intent to effectuate the death of growing cells, which caused false results to be reported in the research record. ORI has concluded that these acts seriously deviated from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, and/or reporting research.

ORI found that the Respondent’s intentional tampering of his colleague’s laboratory research constitutes research misconduct as defined by 42 CFR part 93. ORI determined that the Respondent engaged in a pattern of dishonest conduct through the commission of multiple acts of data falsification. ORI also determined that the subterfuge in which he freely engaged for several months constitutes an aggravating factor. The Respondent attempted to mislead the UMich police by initially denying involvement in the tampering and refusing to accept responsibility for this misconduct. The Respondent eventually made an admission only after the UMich police informed him that his actions in the laboratory had been videotaped. This dishonest conduct established the Respondent’s lack of present responsibility to be a steward of Federal funds (2 CFR 376 et seq.; 42 CFR 93.408).

The following administrative actions have been implemented for a period of 3 years, beginning on April 7, 2011:

(1) Dr. Bhrigu is debarred from eligibility for any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility for, or involvement in, nonprocurement programs of the United States Government, referred to as “covered transactions,’ pursuant to HHS’ Implementation of OMB [[Page 23600]] Guidelines to Agencies on Governmentwide Debarment and Suspension (2 CFR 376 et seq.); and

(2) Dr. Bhrigu is prohibited from serving in any advisory capacity to the U.S. PHS, including but not limited to service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant.

And …

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case:

Based on the report of an investigation conducted by New York Medical College (NYMC) and additional analysis by ORI, the U.S. PHS found that Junghee J. Shin, PhD, former graduate student, NYMC, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by R01 AI048856 and R01 AI043063.

PHS found that the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data in Figure 4 of a manuscript submitted to the journal Infection and Immunity (Shin, J.J., Godfrey, H.P., & Cabello, F.C. “Expression and localization of BmpC in Borrelia burgdorferi after growth under various environmental conditions.’ Submitted to Infection and Immunity; hereafter referred to as the “manuscript’) and Figure 5 of a paper published in Infection and Immunity (Shin, J.J. Bryksin, A.V., Godfrey, H.P., & Cabello, F.C. “Localization of BmpA on the exposed outer membrane of Borrelia burgdorferi by monospecific anti-recombinant BmpA rabbit antibodies.’ Infection and Immunity 72(4):2280-2287, April 2004; hereafter referred to as the “paper.’ Retracted in: Infection and Immunity 76(10):4792, October 2008). Specifically, NYMC and ORI found that:

  • Dr. Shin falsified microscopic immunofluorescence blank images in Figure 4 of the manuscript (top row, 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th panels, and bottom row, 1st panel) and Figure 5 of the paper (top row, 1st and 5th panels, lower 1st panel) by using one blank image from an unknown experiment to falsely represent the preimmunization control conditions (intact cells and methanol fixation) as well as the negative staining of anti-BmpC and anti-FlaB in Figure 4 and anti-FlaB in Figure 5 on intact cells.
  • Dr. Shin falsified at least one of two images in Figure 4 of the manuscript and Figure 5 of the paper by using different portions of a green-red pair of microscopic immunofluorescence images (1230036.tif and 1230037.tif) because unfixed cells staining positive for BmpA in the top row, 4th panel, of Figure 5 were the same unfixed cells purportedly positive for OspA in the top row, 3rd panel, of Figure 4.
  • Dr. Shin falsified at least one of two images in Figure 4 of the manuscript and Figure 5 of the paper by using different photo cropping from a single microscopic immunofluorescence image (1230039.tif) to represent fixed cells positive for BmpA and labeled with anti-FlaB in the lower row, 5th panel, of Figure 5 and to also represent fixed cells positive for BmpC and stained with anti-FlaB in the lower row, 5th panel, of Figure 4.

Dr. Shin has entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement in which she has voluntarily agreed, for a period of 3 years, beginning on April 5, 2011:

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

(2) to exclude herself voluntarily from service 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 a consultant.

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Findings of Research Misconduct

Oof … an MD-PhD student who admitted that “Approximately, 60-75% of the PhD research data was changed or falsified.” [at least, I assume there should be a percentage sign there] I’m wondering how he still has the doctorate.

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case:

Based on the Respondent’s written admission, the NYU School of Medicine and ORI found that Sagar S. Mungekar, PhD, former MD/ PhD student in the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at NYUSOM, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by R01GM35769, R01GM55624, T32GM07308, and T32AI007180.

Dr. Mungekar admitted that in his PhD thesis he “increased statistical significance of the calculated means and standards of deviation [sic] of the UV spectrophometic [sic] data presented by discarding certain experimental data and thus presented data that was falsified. In addition, as the repression ratios calculated and conclusions reached based on these data that included falsified data, those values and conclusions are fabricated. Approximately, 60-75 of the [Respondent’s] PhD research data was changed or falsified.’ Dr. Mungekar also admitted “while doing these experiments, I did not sequence all of the constructs that I constructed, thus, I could not be certain of the exact identity of the plasmids in question.’

ORI found that Dr. Mungekar engaged in research misconduct (42 CFR 93.103) by fabricating and falsifying data. Specifically, ORI found that Dr. Mungekar falsified 5 tables and 5 figures in his PhD thesis entitled “Autoregulation of Ribonuclease E,’ by discarding certain spectrophotometric data, to increase statistical significance, used to calculate repression ratios and RNA decay rates. Dr. Mungekar also claimed to have constructed 53 different reporter plasmids with RNase E mutants, when sequencing data did not exist to support this claim.

Dr. Mungekar has entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement in which he has voluntarily agreed, for a period of 3 years, beginning on November 22, 2010:

(1) That any institution that submits an application for PHS support for a research project on which the Respondent’s participation is proposed or that uses him in any capacity on PHS-supported research, or that submits a report of PHS-funded research in which he is involved, must concurrently submit a plan for supervision of his duties to ORI for approval; the supervisory plan must be designed to ensure the scientific integrity of his research contribution; Respondent agrees that he will not participate in any PHS-supported research until such a supervision plan is submitted to ORI;

(2) that any institution employing him submits, in conjunction with each application for PHS funds, or report, manuscript, or abstract involving PHS-funded research in which he is involved, a certification to ORI that the data provided by the Respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise legitimately derived and that the data, procedures, and methodology are accurately reported in the application or report; and

(3) to exclude himself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to the US PHS, including but not limited to service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant.

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Findings of Misconduct in Science

Wow … ORI hardly ever gets someone on plagiarism. I wonder what Columbia does/did about the degree itself.

Notice is hereby given that ORI has taken final action in the following case:

Based on the findings of an investigation by Columbia University and additional analysis conducted by ORI during its oversight review, ORI found that Bengu Sezen, PhD, former graduate student, Department of Chemistry, engaged in misconduct in science in research funded by R01GM60326.

Specifically, ORI made 21 findings of scientific misconduct against Dr. Sezen based on evidence that she knowingly and intentionally falsified and fabricated, and in one instance plagiarized, data reported in 3 papers and her doctoral thesis.

The following administrative actions have been implemented for a period of 5 years, beginning on November 4, 2010:

(1) Dr. Sezen is debarred from eligibility for any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the US Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the US Government…; and

(2) Dr. Sezen is prohibited from serving in any advisory capacity to the US PHS, including but not limited to service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant.

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