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USGS finds data fraud, closes chemistry lab

Misconduct has led to delays and 1 retraction in environmental quality measurements reports

by Jessica Morrison
June 24, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 26

Alleged misconduct and data manipulation at a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) laboratory may have affected thousands of environmental quality measurements processed between 2008 and 2014, according to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

As many as 24 research projects, representing some $108 million in funding for the laboratory, may have been impacted, OIG said earlier this month. “At least seven reports have been delayed, and to date, one report has been retracted.”

The misconduct, which was discovered by USGS management in 2014, involves analyses performed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry by the Inorganic Section of the USGS Energy Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colo.

“Some data were manipulated both to correct for calibration failures and to improve results of standard reference materials and unknowns” and raw data were not retained, USGS says.

Although USGS notified affected lab customers, some collaborators, and relevant journals about the misconduct investigation, OIG faulted the agency for taking too long to issue a public notification.

USGS permanently closed the lab on March 1 and issued a public notification on the lab’s website last month ahead of the OIG report. The lab routinely processed samples as a service for USGS scientists and scientists from other organizations.

“One chemist was principally in charge of operating the mass spectrometer” during the years covered by the inspection, OIG said in its final inspection report.


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