On Ethical Pursuit in Research

To write a case study blog on ethics, I chose a case (Case Summary: Sudbo, Jon ) of Scientific Misconduct, in particular falsifying and fabrication of research data . I find this case intriguing, for the most part, because: 1) I work as a graduate research assistant currently immersed in the process of assisting two professors writing a NIH research grant application and 2) Having had the experience of executing a household survey as a PhD student and collecting data on my dissertation research,  I understand the importance of reliable and authentic data in answering my research questions and the far-reaching consequences of the findings.

In this case, a faculty member (former doctoral student and researcher) of one of the leading Universities of Europe, was accused of Scientific misconduct.  The allegations against him and the findings from an investigation conducted by Investigation Commission appointed by Norwegian Radium Hospital (NRH) and the University of Oslo was of:

  • Fabricating Data that demonstrated feasibility of research in a grant application submitted to National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institutes of Health (NIH)
    (the accused reported several events intended to demonstrate his experience in the research field that the Investigation Commission stated “appear as pure fiction.”)
  • Falsifying in the first year progress report of the grant (“falsified the number of patients that had been screened for admission to the study”)

The findings of the investigations (respondent’s own admission and additional analysis and information obtained by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) during its oversight review) provide evidence in favor of the misconduct. However, the interesting aspect is the accused admitted of falsifying and/or fabricating data in three publications, whereas the investigating committee found evidence of at least twelve other publications that called for retraction because those publications could not be considered valid. Even though those publications were not funded by Public Health Service (PHS), the validity of those publications were questionable due to the fact that they address the same general research area of the submitted and funded grant.  As disciplinary actions, the accused researcher “voluntarily “agreed to permanently exclude himself from — 1) any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the US Government and from eligibility or involvement in non-procurement programs of the US Government and 2) serving in any advisory capacity to PHS. The accused agreed on making petition to reverse or reduce the scope of the permanent voluntary exclusion or other administrative actions that were subject of the agreement (details of the actions are available here) .

Objective of research work in any discipline is to innovate, improve and develop knowledge to answer questions specific to that discipline and eventually to communicate the knowledge through publications. The importance of research work is fundamental in the progression of authentic knowledge in any field and ensuring human well-being using the insights  gained from the research findings. Ethical pursuit is one of the indispensable elements of any research endeavors or academic work; fabrication of data whereas not only tarnishes the existing trust on researcher and their dedications towards the work, also unequivocally puts the lives at risk and resources go to waste. Therefore, we, as researchers, carry a tremendous responsibility of searching and answering of research questions while ensuring the reliability of the data, analysis to provide authentic and well-grounded output.

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