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Texas Tech University November 10, 2011. Why Scientists Cheat (and what am I supposed to do about it?). Gerald P. Koocher, Ph.D., ABPP Simmons College www.ethicsresearch.com. Proximal Cause & Scientific Dishonesty.

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why scientists cheat and what am i supposed to do about it

Texas Tech University

November 10, 2011

Why Scientists Cheat (and what am I supposed to do about it?)

Gerald P. Koocher, Ph.D., ABPP

Simmons College


proximal cause scientific dishonesty
Proximal Cause & Scientific Dishonesty
  • Researchers likelihood of intentionally engaging in dishonest acts increases if:
    • their commitment to discovering the truth (to patient care, or to other core values) fails or becomes compromised through rationalization;
    • if the potential for reward (or perceived urgent need) exists; and
    • if they regard the chances of detection as low.
investigators may justify falsifying data as acceptable because
Investigators may justify falsifying data as acceptable because…
  • They believe the actual results would turn out as they expected in any case.
  • Taking a shortcut seems necessary to meet an important deadline.
  • The chance of uncovering forged data seems nil.
what to do colleagues as a defense against bad science
What to do?Colleagues as a defense against bad science
  • Create a situational constraint as the primary barrier to intentional dishonest acts.
  • Colleagues in a position to observe or learn about the misbehavior constitute the principal source of such constraint. These same colleagues also provide the most readily available resource for preventing and correcting unintentional errors.
what constitutes bad science6
What constitutes “Bad Science?”
  • The big three are FF&P
    • Fabrication, Falsification, and Plagiarism
      • Fabrication is usually in the form of “dry lab” data that are simply invented.
      • Falsification can take several forms.
        • “Smoothing,” or “cooking” actual data to more closely approach the desired or expected outcome.
        • Dropping collected data points (“trimming”) to delete unwanted information.
can we agree on p lagiarism
Can we agree on plagiarism?
  • Use of another person’s words, ideas, or other intellectual and creative work without attribution, and representing it as one’s own.
  • But wait…
    • How about “self-plagiarism”?
    • How about cultural justifications?
      • “I wanted to get it right…don’t want to lose face.”
      • “I was just being efficient.”
      • “My professor is lazy.”

Sohrabi, B. Gholipour, A. & Mohammadesmaeili, N. (2011). Effects of Personality and Information Technology on Plagiarism: An Iranian Perspective. Ethics & Behavior, 21, 5, xxx-xxx.

  • Students must do absurd assignment assigned by their professors.
  • Discovering new things makes me worried so I prefer to copy others’ work.
  • If professors know that I don’t understand, I feel ashamed.
  • Cheating culture is accepted in universities.
  • In our college, establishing a good relationship with professors is better than strong academic work.
  • Nowadays, graduating is more important than achieving scientific knowledge. Internet plagiarism helps me to graduate more easily.
  • I retaliate for professors’ cheating; professors plagiarize Power Point files found on Google.
  • Internet plagiarism is the students’ right, not immoral.
  • In college the quantity outweighs quality; by internet plagiarism I increase my works’ quantity.

Stupidity & Bad habits

  • Incompetence: Examples include: poor research design, methodology, or statistical procedure; inappropriate selection or use of a study technique due to insufficient skills or training.
  • Careless work habits: Examples include: sloppy record-keeping; haphazard data collection; cutting corners; inadequate monitoring of the project's progress.
the bozo factor
The Bozo Factor
  • Sometimes ineptitude or incompetence can result in:
    • inappropriate experimental design,
    • poor or biased sampling procedures,
    • misused or wrongly applied statistical tests,
    • inadequate record-keeping, or
    • just plain carelessness.
  • Even without any intent to deceive, inaccurate information can seriously damage the research record.
other issues not tracked by the feds
Other issues not tracked by the Feds
  • Intentional bias: Examples include: rigging a sample to maximize support for hypotheses; withholding methodology details; deceptive or misleading reporting of data or its interpretation.
other issues not tracked by the feds13
Other issues not tracked by the Feds
  • Questionable publication practices/authorship: Examples include: publishing a paper or parts of the same study in different publication outlets without informing the readers; undeserved "gift" authorships; coerced authorship; omitting someone who deserved an authorship or other form of credit.
other issues not tracked by the feds14
Other issues not tracked by the Feds
  • Inadequate supervision of research assistants. Examples include: giving assistants more responsibility than they are able or willing to handle, insufficient supervision of assistants' work.
other issues not tracked by the feds15
Other issues not tracked by the Feds
  • Failure to follow the regulations of science. Examples include: sidestepping or ignoring the IRB or its directives; circumventing or ignoring human participant requirements with regarding informed consent, confidentiality, or risk assessment; inadequate care of research animals; violating federal research policy.
other issues not tracked by the feds16
Other issues not tracked by the Feds
  • Contributing to difficult or stressful work environments that could adversely influence research process.
    • Examples: mistreatment or disrespectful treatment of subordinates; sexual harassment or other form of exploitation; playing favorites and other factors that create poor morale or acting out by subordinates; conflicts with the administration or administrative policies.
other issues not necessarily tracked by the feds
Other issues not necessarily tracked by the Feds
  • A dishonest act indirectly related to researcher role. Examples include: unreported conflicts, such as a financial interest in the outcome of an experiment; misuse or misappropriation of grant funds; inflating, distorting, or including bogus accomplishments on a resume.
won t the scientific record self correct over time
Won’t the scientific record self-correct over time?
  • One might assume (or hope) that such inaccuracies, purposeful or not, will be discovered. But don’t cannot count on it.
    • The odds of correct errors through replication have declined as funding sources do not support replication research.
    • Most scholarly journals do not normally publish replication studies.
    • As a result, researchers have little incentive to repeat projects, especially expensive and complex ones.
difficulties in detection
Difficulties in Detection
  • Most highly publicized data scandals have occurred in biomedical research laboratories.
  • No one knows for sure whether the incidence is higher in biomedical than in the social and behavioral sciences, or whether it is simply easier to detect fraud in biomedical research.
difficulties in detection20
Difficulties in Detection
  • Most social and behavioral research does not involve chemical analyses, tissue cultures, changes in physical symptoms, invasive procedures, or similar “hard” documentation.
  • Social science data often take the form of scores from questionnaires, psychological assessments, performance measures or qualitative data based on interviews or behavioral observations.
    • By the time data analysis takes place the participants have long since gone, taking their identities with them. Such data become relatively easy to generate, fudge, or trim.
colleagues as a defense against bad science
NIH Grant No. R01 NS049573 [NINDS/ORI]

Gerald P. Koocher, Principal Investigator

Patricia Keith-Spiegel and Joan Sieber, Co-Investigators

See: Koocher, G. P. & Keith-Spiegel, P. (2010). Opinion: Peers nip misconduct in the bud. Nature, 466, 438-440.

Colleagues as a Defense Against Bad Science
nih focuses on ff p but there s more
NIH focuses on FF&P, but there’s more…
  • We surveyed more than 5,000 names in the NIH CRISP data base.
  • 2,599 respondents reported 3,393 accounts of suspected wrongdoing and other errors related to the conduct of research.
  • Only 406 of those responding stated that they had no incidents to share.
what risks materialized and who got hurt
What Risks Materialized and Who Got Hurt?
  • In 1,169 (42%) of the incidents, participants experienced no negative consequences as a result of their intervention.
  • Another 296 participants (11%) reported an elevation in status.
  • Almost half of our interveners reported suffering to some degree; most recounting only emotional distress as opposed to career or social standing damage.
  • Some reported serious consequences, such as feeling shunned, forced to leave a job, or losing previously close friends or allies. A few feared law suits, although none ever materialized.
glass 2 3rds full
Glass 2/3rds full
  • Despite personal risks, 2/3 of participants claimed to have attempted to prevent or correct a wrong in progress, or to minimize damage that had already occurred.
  • Very few participants initially reported their concerns to another entity, opting to attempt informal corrective steps or achieve damage control on their own or in partnership with other colleagues.
  • The most common reasons offered for acting included a commitment to research integrity, to avoid damaging the reputation of oneself, one’s lab, or institution, or to prevent an associate from making a mistake.
  • Almost all respondents took direct action if the questionable act was perpetrated by their own post docs or assistants.
who takes action and does it work
Who Takes Action, and Does It Work?
  • A binary logistic regression analysis profiled characteristics of researchers who intervene:

Most likely to take action were those who

    • held a higher professional or employment status than the suspected wrongdoer
    • had less regular interaction or involvement with the suspected wrongdoer
    • based their suspicions on strong evidence (i.e., direct observation or direct disclosure the transgressor rather than second-hand accounts or hearsay)
    • perceived the transgression as unintentional, and
most likely to take action were those who
Most likely to take action were those who
  • held a belief that individuals have a primary responsibility to become actively involved in maintaining scientific integrity.
  • The vast majority of those who felt victimized or who believed that they might suffer blame also proved likely to intervene individually or by reporting the matter, suggesting that acts involving direct threat to oneself will likely lead to taking some type of action.
  • The highest rates of intervention occurred for projects described as taking place in the context of high stress that compromised research quality.
those who did not act
Those Who Did Not Act
  • About a third of participants did not take action regarding any incident they shared with us.
    • The largest group revealed that they felt too remotely involved or knew that others were already taking action.
    • Another third claimed they simply did not know what to do.
    • Reluctance to deal with a suspected offender perceived of as difficult person or who was their superior were other common reasons for inaction, as was an unwillingness to act when evidence seemed insufficient.
those who did not act31
Those Who Did Not Act
  • Social relationships, job security, and status become more salient in close working conditions. So perhaps understandable, but also disappointing – we found that those who worked closely with suspected wrongdoers were less likely to take any action.
    • Thus, the best opportunity to observe wrongs and stop or correct them appears to also be less likely to be utilized.
those who did not act32
Those Who Did Not Act
  • We asked if those who took no action on their suspicions experienced lingering reservations.
    • Forty percent of those who did not get involved, even though they had direct evidence of wrongdoing, still felt misgivings, sometimes even after many years had since passed.
paul kornak clinical trials in oncology and homicide
Paul KornakClinical trials in oncology and homicide
  • Paul Kornak pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide for falsely representing results of blood chemical analyses in a chemotherapy study.
  • One participant who should have been excluded from the study died as a result.
paul kornak
Paul Kornak

In August 2000, he applied for employment to the VA, submitting a false Declaration for Federal Employment form, denying any criminal history, despite having a prior conviction and serving 3 years probation for mail fraud in 1992.

By October of 2000, Kornak held responsibility for organizing, coordinating, implementing, and directing all research elements in the Stratton VA Medical Center oncology research program.

paul kornak35
Paul Kornak
  • From May, 1999, to July, 2002, Kornak defrauded the sponsors of clinical studies by repeatedly submitting false documentation to enroll participants who did not qualify under study protocols.
  • He caused the death of a participant by falsely representing results of the patient’s blood chemistry analysis to suggest the participant met criteria for study participation, when actual results showed impaired kidney and liver function.
  • The patient was administered docetaxel, cisplatin, and 5-FU in connection with the study protocol on or about May 31, 2001, and died as a result on or June 11, 2001.
case summary paul h kornak federal register february 24 2006 volume 71 number 37
Case Summary - Paul H. Kornak [Federal Register: February 24, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 37)]
  • Paul H. Kornak, Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany, New York pled guilty to:
    • making and using a materially false statement
    • mail fraud and
    • criminally negligent homicide
    • (See United States of America v. Paul H. Kornak, Criminal Action No. 03-CR-436 (FJS), U.S. District Court (N.D.N.Y.) (January 18, 2005).
    • In addition to 71-month prison term, he was directed to pay restitution to two pharmaceutical companies and the VA in the amount of approximately $639,000.
andrew wakefield heavyweight champion of scientific fraud
Andrew Wakefield:Heavyweight Champion of Scientific Fraud
  • British physician/researcher who (with 12 co-authors) published a paper in Lancet (February, 1998) about 12 autistic children, describing a new syndrome: “autistic enterocolitis,” and raising the possibility of a link between a novel form of bowel disease, autism, and the MMR vaccine.
andrew wakefield
Andrew Wakefield
  • The paper was a complete fraud, describing invented patients and bogus data.
  • The scare frightened parents and pushed down vaccination rates, causing outbreaks of measles in the UK.
  • The “theory” has persisted among many parents of autistic children, reducing support for other urgently needed genuine research.
andrew wakefield39
Andrew Wakefield
  • A follow-up article published by the BMJ in January, 2011 revealed that Wakefield—in partnership with the father of one of the boys in the study—had planned to launch a venture linked to MMR vaccination scare that would profit from new medical tests and "litigation driven testing."
  • Wakefield predicted he "could make more than $43 million a year from diagnostic kits" for autistic enterocolitis.
  • Wakefield is no longer licensed as a physician and reportedly now resides in Texas.
  • He still has a following including luminaries such as former Playboy playmate Jenny McCarthy.
too good to be true stephen breuning
Too Good to be true: Stephen Breuning
  • By the age of 30 he had produced an influential body of work on treatment of the mentally retarded. But there was something odd about the work of Stephen Bruning, then an assistant professor of child psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • His data seemed almost too orderly, too pat, and collected with remarkable speed. The doubts came to a head in 1983 when his supervisor, Robert Sprague, then director of the Institute for Child Behavior and Development at the University of Illinois, reported his suspicions to the NIMH.
too good to be true stephen breuning41
Too Good to be true: Stephen Breuning
  • Between 1979 and 1984, said Sprague,, "produced one-third of the literature in the psychopharmacology of the mentally retarded.“ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,964485,00.html#ixzz1Im1gTTtM
  • Dr. Stephen Breuning was convicted of "academic fraud-related charges" in the United States District Court of the District of Maryland on November 10, 1988.
harvard finds scientist guilty of misconduct by nicholas wade published august 20 2010 boston globe
Harvard Finds Scientist Guilty of Misconduct By Nicholas Wade, Published: August 20, 2010, Boston Globe
  • Harvard University found a prominent researcher, Marc Hauser, “solely responsible” for eight instances of scientific misconduct. Marc Hauser worked in the field of cognition and morality. Hours later, Dr. Hauser, a rising star for his explorations into cognition and morality, made his first public statement since news of the inquiry emerged last week, telling The New York Times, “I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes” and saying he was “deeply sorry for the problems this case had caused to my students, my colleagues and my university.”
marc hauser resigned his position as a faculty member effective august 1 2011
Marc Hauser resigned his position as a faculty member, effective August 1, 2011
  • A large majority of the Harvard psychology faculty had voted not to allow him to teach in the department this year, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean supported the decision.
  • “While on leave over the past year, I have begun doing some extremely interesting and rewarding work focusing on the educational needs of at-risk teenagers. I have also been offered some exciting opportunities in the private sector,” Hauser wrote in a resignation letter to the dean, dated July 7. “While I may return to teaching and research in the years to come, I look forward to focusing my energies in the coming year on these new and interesting challenges.”
  • http://www.boston.com/Boston/whitecoatnotes/2011/07/embattled-harvard-psychology-professor-resigns/Yb6hnLhdPuBkPf4f0rTXpO/index.html
witnesses of research wrong doing joan e sieber and ann meeker o connell
Witnesses of Research Wrong-DoingJoan E. Sieber and Ann Meeker O’Connell
  • Interviewed 135 of our participants and 125 provided first hand witnessing and responding to research wrongdoing.
  • Participants reported a variety of responses, including formal notification of institutional officials, peer shaming and one-on-one discussions with peers to address wrongdoing that ranged from improper attribution of authorship to falsification, fabrication and plagiarism.
witnesses of research wrong doing joan e sieber and ann meeker o connell45
Witnesses of Research Wrong-DoingJoan E. Sieber and Ann Meeker O’Connell
  • Unexpectedly, administrative incompetence in handling allegations seemed the prevalent theme, exceeding all of forms of wrongdoing that were coded. Institutions may have neither effective nor efficient processes for managing even the most egregious cases of research wrongdoing.
witnesses of research wrong doing joan e sieber and ann meeker o connell46
Witnesses of Research Wrong-DoingJoan E. Sieber and Ann Meeker O’Connell
  • “My university admitted many very wealthy foreign students, most of whom plagiarized rampantly. When I spoke out about it, colleagues explained that if they cracked down on plagiarism, the students would simply leave and go to another expensive private university where they could submit plagiarized work.”
  • “Our research team recounted to our dean the bullying and dishonesty we had experienced. It seemed to us that the dean didn’t know how to confront the powerful perpetrator and didn’t confront the wrongdoing. He instructed all of us to relinquish any right to our data.”
witnesses of research wrong doing joan e sieber and ann meeker o connell47
Witnesses of Research Wrong-DoingJoan E. Sieber and Ann Meeker O’Connell
  • “I had just become a post doc for a PI who gave me data on 50 subjects to work with. However, the research coordinator, who was resigning, told me that fMRI scans had only been done on 6 of the 50 subjects and that the results did not support the PI’s hypotheses. I felt like I had just been handed a smoking gun, and wanted out immediately. But how?”
  • “The department had recently hired a nationally known superstar with tenure, who brought many grants with him. He was close to retirement and suffering from severe emotional problems, which manifested themselves as paranoia, self-aggrandizement, and extreme cruelty and ruinous abuse of post-docs and students in his lab, who were driven out of the laboratory or left science entirely.”
culture shifting
Culture shifting
  • Actively engaging colleagues with gentle alternatives to whistleblowing
    • Offering help
    • Expressing concern
    • The “Bullwinkle” approach
  • Encouraging reporting of near-miss situations
  • Apologizing when appropriate

I’m so confused…

create a culture that encourages reporting of human error
Create a culture that encourages reporting of human error
  • Near-miss recognition and reporting systems (near-miss, zero cost)
  • Creating a safe climate for sharing concerns in a professional manner and context (engaged colleagues)
www.ethicsresearch.comCopies of this presentation and other resources including the RRW Manual are available for downloading free of charge.