Within the scientific community, the effects of misconduct—in terms of lost time, forfeited recognition to others, and feelings of personal betrayal—can be devastating. Individuals, institutions, and even entire research fields can suffer grievous setbacks from instances of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism even if they are only tangentially associated with the case.
When individuals have been accused of scientific misconduct in the past, the institutions responsible for responding to those accusations have taken a number of different approaches. In general, the most successful responses are those that clearly separate a preliminary investigation to gather information from a subsequent adjudication to judge guilt or innocence and issue sanctions if necessary. During the adjudication stage, the individual accused of misconduct has the right to various due process protections, such as reviewing the evidence gathered during the investigation and cross-examining witnesses.
In addition to falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism, other ethical transgressions directly associated with research can cause serious harm to individuals and institutions. Examples include cover-ups of misconduct in science, reprisals against whistleblowers, malicious allegations of misconduct in science, and violations of due process in handling complaints of misconduct in science. Policymakers and scientists have not decided whether such actions should be considered misconduct in science—and therefore subject to the same procedures and sanctions as falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism—or whether they should be
FABRICATION IN A GRANT APPLICATION
Don is a first-year graduate student 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 Don decides it would be advantageous to list a publication as "submitted." Without consulting the faculty member or other colleagues involved, Don 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. Don 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 Don's department demand that he withdraw his grant application and dismiss him from the graduate program. After leaving the university, Don applies for a master's degree, since he has fulfilled the course requirements. Although the department votes not to grant him a degree, the university administration does so because it is not stated in the university graduate bulletin that a student in Don's department must be in "good standing" to receive a degree. They fear that Don will bring suit against the university if the degree is denied. Likewise, nothing will appear in Don's university transcript regarding his dismissal.