IMPORTANT ARTICLE BY DANIEL CRESSEY IN 2013 Nature: “‘REHAB’ HELPS ERRANT RESEARCHERS RETURN TO THE LAB”

 

             Daniel Cressey presents a very provocative and well-written article about the corruption problem in science, within the January 10, 2013, issue of the journal, Nature, Volume 493, page 147 [1] (also  available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/rehab-helps-errant-researchers-return-to-the-lab-1.12165).  Cressey reports that the number of cases of official misconduct in science seems to be increasing and new steps besides the traditional preventative measures now might be badly needed.  He states that the number of allegations of misconduct in science recorded by the US Office of Research Integrity (Rockville, Maryland, USA) nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012; some of this increase could be due to the new availability of a national center for submitting allegations of misconduct in science [1]. 

 

Cressey presents the story of Prof. James DuBois at St. Louis University (Missouri, USA), who has started a new program to try to rehabilitate errant research scientists, “RePair: Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research”.  This very innovative effort attempts to enable professional research scientists showing evidence of previous defective ethical judgment to be cleansed and changed back into productive research workers having much improved professional  standards.  The 3-day intensive program was developed with a $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Numerous very interesting reader comments about this new idea are included following the main article in Nature [1]. 

      

Although many applaud the efforts of Prof. DuBois with this pioneering idea for professional re-education and restoration, it remains to be seen whether the corrupt  research scientists taking this course will be able to maintain their re-acquired high standards for the proper conduct of scientific investigations. One very modern veterinary research scientist in Korea was judged to have cheated and to have bad ethical demeanor, but now seems to have made much progress to reforming himself through efforts on his own [2]; he seems well on his way to again becoming a successful researcher.

 

             I myself believe that research scientists must be 100% honest.  Being honest most of the time is not enough for science and research; it is all or nothing.  Some would excuse simple lapses in honesty by virtue of the enormous pressures now facing faculty scientists working with research in modern universities; these corrupting pressures aim to get faculty scientists to acquire more and more research grants (see my earlier post on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” within the Big Problems category), to publish more and more research reports, and to continuously grow their professional reputation.  In response to these daily pressures and their numerous deadlines (see my recent post on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” in the Scientists category), some weaker individuals easily will cheat “just a little bit”.  I do recognize that such cases could be somewhat less condemnable than the outright fabrication of entire data sets, stealing of research data or research ideas from other laboratories and other scientists, or, cheating on applications for research grants from the federal funding agencies.  However, I still maintain that only 100% honesty can be accepted in professional scientists.  Any scientist who is just a tiny amount dishonest just at one time must be suspected to be very subject to additional corruption and cheating with their future research work.    Some of the many reader commentaries addressed to this important article agree with my own viewpoint. 

 

Any cheating by a research scientist is unprofessional and has dramatic practical consequences.  Not only does dishonesty damage the individual researcher, but it also decreases the ability of other scientists to be colleagues or collaborators, and reduces the very great amount of trust that the public extends to all scientists [3].  Thus, the effects of any corruption easily spread beyond the one errant individual to affect both other scientists and the entire public. New examples of professional dishonesty by faculty research scientists continue to be uncovered despite their universal condemnation by other scientists [e.g., 4,5]. 

 

What is being done to prevent these problems from occurring?  What can be done that will give a better result?  The usual wishful thinking and slaps on the wrist will not prevent these events from happening!  My suggested solution to this important problem in modern science is to institute several new changes so that: (1) the need for 100% honesty must be taught to all prospective scientists, beginning in primary (grade) school (before they even decide that they definitely want to become a scientist) and continuing through their graduate school education, (2) much more active means to detect and investigate dishonesty are adopted by academia, granting agencies, professional science journals, and book publishers, and, (3) much stiffer penalties must be accorded to those scientists where professional misconduct is either admitted or can be proven.  All of these measures will help counteract the pressures engendered by the vicious hyper-competition for research funding, and hopefully will strengthen the personal dedication to integrity in some weaker scientists.  The novel restorative efforts originated by Prof. James DuBois also will help, provided that they actually work; it will be interesting to read about evaluations of the effectiveness of this new restorative program after more participants have been enrolled and returned to conduct new research studies. 

 

[1] Cressey, D., 2013.  RePair: Restoring professionalism and integrity in research.  Nature  493:147.  Also  available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/rehab-helps-errant-researchers-return-to-the-lab-1.12165)

[2]  Cyranoski, D., 2014.  Cloning comeback.  Nature  505:468-471.  Also available online at:  http://www.nature.com/news/cloning-comeback-1.14504.

[3]  Pew Research, 2009.  Public praises science; Scientists fault public, media; Scientific achievements less prominent than a decade ago.  Available online at:                                       http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/public-praises-science-scientists-fault-public-media/ .

[4]  Callaway, E., 2011.  Report finds massive fraud at Dutch universities.  Nature, 479:15.  Also available on the internet at::  http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111101/full/479015a.html .

            [5]  Mail Online, 2014.  Rogue scientist faked AIDS research funded with $19M in taxpayer funded money by spiking rabbit blood.  Daily Mail (U.K.), 26 December 2013.  Available online at:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529541/Rogue-scientist-FAKED-federally-funded-AIDS-research-spiking-rabbit-blood.html .

     

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