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On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition RESEARCH MISCONDUCT Some research behaviors are so at odds with the core principles of science that they are treated very harshly by the scientific community and by institutions that oversee research. Anyone who engages in these behaviors is putting his or her scientific career at risk and is threatening the overall reputation of science and the health and welfare of the intended beneficiaries of research. Collectively these actions have come to be known as scientific misconduct. A statement developed by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has been adopted by most research-funding agencies, defines misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.” According to the statement, the three elements of misconduct are defined as follows: Fabrication is “making up data or results.” Falsification is “manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.” Plagiarism is “the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.” In addition, the federal statement says that to be considered research misconduct, actions must represent a “significant departure from accepted practices,” must have been “committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly,” and must be “proven by a preponderance of evidence.” According to the statement, “research misconduct does not include differences of opinion.” Some research institutions and research-funding agencies define scientific research misconduct more broadly. These institutional definitions may add, for example, abuse of confidentiality in peer review, failure to allocate credit appropriately in scientific publications, not
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On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition A Breach of Trust Beginning in 1998, a series of remarkable papers attracted great attention within the condensed matter physics community. The papers, based largely on work done at Bell Laboratories, described methods that could create carbon-based materials with long-sought properties, including superconductivity and molecular-level switching. However, when other materials scientists sought to reproduce or extend the results, they were unsuccessful. In 2001, several physicists inside and outside Bell Laboratories began to notice anomalies in some of the papers. Several contained figures that were very similar, even though they described different experimental systems. Some graphs seemed too smooth to describe real-life systems. Suspicion quickly fell on a young researcher named Jan Hendrik Schön, who had helped create the materials, had made the physical measurements on them, and was a coauthor on all the papers. Bell Laboratories convened a committee of five outside researchers to examine the results published in 25 papers. Schön, who had conducted part of the work in the laboratory where he did his Ph.D. at the University of Konstanz in Germany, told the committee that the devices he had studied were no longer running or had been thrown away. He also said that he had deleted his primary electronic data files because he did not have room to store them on his old computer and that he kept no data notebooks while he was performing the work. The committee did not accept Schön’s explanations and eventually concluded that he had engaged in fabrication in at least 16 of the 25 papers. Schön was fired from Bell Laboratories and later left the United States. In a letter to the committee, he wrote that “I admit I made various mistakes in my scientific work, which I deeply regret.” Yet he maintained that he “observed experimentally the various physical effects reported in these publications.” The committee concluded that Schön acted alone and that his 20 coauthors on the papers were not guilty of scientific misconduct. However, the committee also raised the issue of the responsibility coauthors have to oversee the work of their colleagues, while acknowledging that no consensus yet exists on the extent of this responsibility. The senior author on several of the papers, all of which were later retracted, wrote that he should have asked Schön for more detailed data and checked his work more carefully, but that he trusted Schön to do his work honestly. In response to the incident, Bell Laboratories instituted new policies for data retention and internal review of results before publication. It also developed a new research ethics statement for its employees.
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On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition observing regulations governing research, failure to report misconduct, or retaliation against individuals who report misconduct to the list of behaviors that are considered misconduct. In addition, the National Science Foundation has retained a clause in its misconduct policies that includes behaviors that seriously deviate from commonly accepted research practices as possible misconduct. A crucial distinction between falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism (sometimes called FFP) and error or negligence is the intent to deceive. When researchers intentionally deceive their colleagues by falsifying information, fabricating research results, or using others’ words and ideas without giving credit, they are violating fundamental research standards and basic societal values. These actions are seen as Fabrication in a Grant Proposal Vijay, who has just finished his first year of graduate school, is applying to the National Science Foundation for a predoctoral fellowship. His work in a lab where he did a rotation project was later carried on successfully by others, and it appears that a manuscript will be prepared for publication by the end of the summer. However, the fellowship application deadline is June 1, and Vijay decides it would be advantageous to list a publication as “submitted” rather than “in progress.” Without consulting the faculty member or other colleagues involved, Vijay makes up a title and author list for a “submitted” paper and cites it in his application. After the application has been mailed, a lab member sees it and goes to the faculty member to ask about the “submitted” manuscript. Vijay admits to fabricating the submission of the paper but explains his actions by saying that he thought the practice was not uncommon in science. The faculty members in Vijay’s department demand that he withdraw his grant proposal and dismiss him from the graduate program. Do you think that researchers often exaggerate the publication status of their work in written materials? Do you think the department acted too harshly in dismissing Vijay from the graduate program? If Vijay later applied to a graduate program at another institution, does that institution have the right to know what happened? What were Vijay’s adviser’s responsibilities in reviewing the application before it was submitted?
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On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition Is It Plagiarism? Professor Lee is writing a proposal for a research grant, and the deadline for the proposal submission is two days from now. To complete the background section of the proposal, Lee copies a few isolated sentences of a journal paper written by another author. The copied sentences consist of brief, factual, one-sentence summaries of earlier articles closely related to the proposal, descriptions of basic concepts from textbooks, and definitions of standard mathematical notations. None of these ideas is due to the other author. Lee adds a one-sentence summary of the journal paper and cites it. Does the copying of a few isolated sentences in this case constitute plagiarism? By citing the journal paper, has Lee given proper credit to the other author? the worst violations of scientific standards because they undermine the trust on which science is based. However, intent can be difficult to establish. For example, because trust in science depends so heavily on the assumption that the origin and content of scientific ideas will be treated with respect, plagiarism is taken very seriously in science, even though it does not introduce spurious results into research records in the same way that fabrication and falsification do. But someone who plagiarizes may insist it was a mistake, either in note taking or in writing, and that there was no intent to deceive. Similarly, someone accused of falsification may contend that errors resulted from honest mistakes or negligence. Within the scientific community, the effects of misconduct—in terms of lost time, damaged reputations, and feelings of personal betrayal—can be devastating. Individuals, institutions, and even entire research fields can suffer grievous setbacks from instances of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. Acts of misconduct also can draw the attention of the media, policymakers, and the general public, with negative consequences for all of science and, ultimately, for the public at large.