Issue Date: August 11, 2008
Scientific Misconduct Sanctions May Not Be As Severe As Expected
When a scientist is found guilty of misconduct—categorized as falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism of research results—the imposed sanctions are generally assumed to end the scientific career of the perpetrator. To the contrary, a study by ethicists Jon F. Merz of the University of Pennsylvania and Barbara K. Redman of Wayne State University reveals that a significant number of guilty scientists manage to recover from the initial setbacks stemming from their misconduct and continue useful scientific lives elsewhere (Science 2008, 321, 775). Merz and Redman searched public records for scientists found guilty of misconduct in the period 1994–2001 by the Office of Research Integrity, an agency that oversees the Public Health Service, which includes the National Institutes of Health. Of the 106 individuals involved, 43 held Ph.D. and/or M.D. degrees and had established research careers. Merz and Redman found that 25 of the 43 scientists continued to publish after the misconduct findings. They also interviewed seven scientists who were willing to discuss their cases. “The picture of the consequences painted by our interviews, which shows both the hardship of punishment and the chance for redemption, is perhaps more positive than it should be,” Merz and Redman suggest. Although these cases were related to biomedical research, Merz says the observed trends probably hold up in all areas of science and engineering.
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