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Grad student falsified data

A graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University studying the psychology of decision-making falsified data in four studies funded by National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Mental Health grants, according to a notice published by the linkurl:Office of Research Integrity;http://ori.dhhs.gov/ (ORI), the misconduct watchdog of the Public Health Service, on July 23. Roxana Gonzalez, at the time an advanced doctoral student in the linkurl:Department of Social and Decision Sciences an

By | August 5, 2008

A graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University studying the psychology of decision-making falsified data in four studies funded by National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Mental Health grants, according to a notice published by the linkurl:Office of Research Integrity;http://ori.dhhs.gov/ (ORI), the misconduct watchdog of the Public Health Service, on July 23. Roxana Gonzalez, at the time an advanced doctoral student in the linkurl:Department of Social and Decision Sciences and Psychology;http://sds.hss.cmu.edu/ at CMU, altered data that affected three published papers, two manuscripts, and one review article, according to the ORI report. "Only two of the published papers were affected in a significant way," Jennifer Lerner, one of Gonzalez's primary advisors and first author on three of the altered studies wrote in an Email to The Scientist. The linkurl:first,;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16256075?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum published in Biological Psychiatry (cited 4 times since it was published), was retracted in January 2007 and republished in the same journal without a table of analyses based on cortisol values which Gonzalez had falsified. Lerner and colleagues have requested that a linkurl:second paper,;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15743981?ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum published in the April 2005 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (cited 8 times), also be retracted, because Gonzalez altered main dependent variables in the study. "The majority of papers affected by Ms. Gonzalez's misconduct were corrected prior to publication," wrote linkurl:Lerner,;http://www.hks.harvard.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/jennifer-lerner who has since left CMU and is now a Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In a linkurl:third paper,;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15998184?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum published the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (cited 14 times), Gonzalez falsified analyses based on participants' responses to manipulation check items, a measure of whether psychological manipulation during an experiment produces the desired effect, according to the ORI report. CMU declined to let linkurl:Baruch Fischhoff,;http://sds.hss.cmu.edu/src/faculty/fischhoff.php CMU professor and first author on the paper, comment on the case. Gonzalez was "fully aware" of the linkurl:ethical rules;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23072/ for conducting science, wrote Lerner. Gonzalez taught seminars on research ethics and served on the student honor court at the College of William and Mary [where she received her Masters degree], Lerner noted. Attempts to reach Gonzalez through her CMU email address were unsuccessful, and Lerner said Gonzalez cut off contact years ago. CMU and the ORI were unable to provide contact information. The university began investigating Gonzalez after two faculty members reported suspicions of linkurl:misconduct;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53493/ in December of 2005, wrote Theresa Thomas of CMU's media relations department in an Email to The Scientist. An initial inquiry was followed by an extensive investigation including participation by the ORI. "There was no evidence that any faculty member, staff member, coauthor or other student was involved in or aware of the misconduct," Thomas wrote. Gonzalez was very cooperative, said Nancy Davidian, deputy director of the Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO), part of ORI, who led the investigation. Without her, Davidian said, "we'd never have been able to figure out what was falsified." In a three-way settlement between Gonzalez, ORI, and CMU, Gonzalez has been permitted to continue research supported by PHS funds if she abides by the terms of the agreement, which include certification of future data and a plan for supervision. The ORI can assure compliance with the settlement by informing Gonzalez's future employers of the findings and working with her and them to fulfill the agreement, said John Dahlberg, director of DIO. Gonzalez has since left CMU, added Davidian, and her current employer does not use PHS funds. The DIO was not permitted to identify that employer. Lerner credits the success of the investigation to the lab's data protection systems -- "duplicate electronic files, original paper files, double-checking statistical analyses, and a security system that tracked entry to the lab's records room" -- which allowed the university to catch and document the falsification of data and restore original data for re-analysis and correction. "It is a tribute to the systems we put in place," she wrote, that "she was caught, and the harm was minimized." The ORI investigators noted that the case highlights a negative trend in which young investigators are given too much autonomy too early in their careers "It's potentially a mentorship issue," said Dahlberg, "a universal theme of so many of our cases." Lerner disagreed. With two Masters degrees and a previous publication record, Gonzalez "was doing exactly the kind of research that doctoral students everywhere undertake," wrote Lerner. "Ms. Gonzalez was given exactly as much trust and responsibility as a student with her experience and training merited. The faculty members working with her had no way to predict that she would violate the ethical rules of which she was well aware." A report of the misconduct was also submitted to the NSF, according to Thomas, and the foundation has yet to conclude its review.
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Comments

Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

August 5, 2008

This is the tip of the iceberg. There are many others. Since falsifying data is the capital crime of science, on what basis is Roxana allowed to continue to receive funding or remain in research?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 7

August 5, 2008

The idea that a graduate student under mentorship and weekly supervision could get this far without being held accountable prior to publication of a study continues to boggle the mind. Research misconduct of this type is not new but the continuation of such bad practices have many implications not the least of which is the potential to mislead other researchers to pursue blind alleys. Are not all graduate students receiving PHS funding expected to receive a formal instruction in research ethics? Wasn't this the case at CMU? If so, then the student in question did not apparently realize that the topics that should have been covered in such an ethics course at CMU applied to HER too!! How sad that there are no sure fire mechanisms available for supervisors of Ph.D. students to weed out this type of sociopathic behavior before it occurs. What's even sadder is the fact that only minor sanctions have been ordered by ORI which sends a bad message to other students who refuse to tow the 'research ethics' line.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 23

August 5, 2008

Dahlberg is correct. A principal scientist's close onservation and true advisement of graduate students is critical to guide proper experimental design and data acquisition and analysis. Note that I did not mention the term "scientific misconduct", because with true and proper training by advisors, the topic need never come up.\n\nThe bulk of the blame does lie with Lerner. While she presents excuses for her actions, her own conduct and ability to train future scientists should come under extreme scrutiny by CMU.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 7

August 5, 2008

From this article, it seems that Roxana Gonzalez deliberately falsified data, as she was "fully aware of the ethical rules for conducting science." However, despite this egregious breach of ethics, she is allowed to continue with her research and apparently even receive funding! This is ridiculous! Such a serious crime (and yes, I consider it to be a crime) should have equally serious consequences--I suggest stripping her of her degrees (the data in her master's theses were likely also falsified), and placing a lifetime ban on public funding for her research. Only SERIOUS consequences will deter future scientists from pursuing a similar, non-ethical path!\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 7

August 6, 2008

I am amazed she is allowed to continue the way she is. If CMU wants to maintain its prestige, they should set an example by stripping her off her Ph.D. degree. I also blame the supervisor for not keeping close watch of his/her grad. students. This happens whenever there is a very large group; the supèrvisor has hardly any time for the students. It is bad time the system of mentoring is changed to reduce, if not completely eliminate, such unethical behavior. As somebody said it is the tip of the iceberg. Remember the incidence of fraud in cloning in S. Korea? Well, who was the first author? An American professor, who withdrew his name after the incidence came to light. What was doing before the publication of the paper?
Avatar of: Roberto Triolo

Roberto Triolo

Posts: 1

August 6, 2008

Too often I read similar news. I think she should be prevented from having access to research funds. But also her mentor has serious responsabilities.
Avatar of: Steve Simon

Steve Simon

Posts: 5

August 6, 2008

While I agree with most of the comments that harsh sanctions are necessary when fraud is discovered, I would suggest that this will have only a limited effect. Most people who falsify data (and who commit crimes in general) are not expecting to get caught. They may be right. The amount of undiscovered fraud is difficult to estimate.\n\nI would suggest first that most courses on research ethics have limited effectiveness. It's hard to do this well, and perhaps naive to believe that a single class is sufficient. Ethical conduct has to be emphasized throughout the entire curriculum.\n\nI would also suggest that data collection systems should be designed to minimize the opportunity for fraud. Data collection needs to be easily auditable and regularly audited. Laboratory scientists already do quite a bit here, but even more effort is needed. As a statistician, I am strongly in favor of this, because even in the absence of fraud easily auditable systems enhance data quality.\n\nFinally, the system needs to have strong protection for whistleblowers. Most research fraud is uncovered by whistleblowers and these individuals are usually not in a position of authority. They are subject to serious coercion, and unless the system protects good faith reports of potential fraud, there will be a strong disincentive to reporting.\n\nSteve Simon (aka Professor Mean)
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

August 10, 2008

Regarding some of the previous posts, Ms. Gonzalez was awarded neither of the doctoral degrees she was working toward, so there's no need to strip her of any degrees.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

August 11, 2008

First, to those who seem to think that the research methods and ethics training at CMU is lacking, it is not. It is very similar to the training that occurs at other peer institutions. As other posters have pointed out, Roxana Gonzales had full knowledge of research ethics, but repeatedly falsified data in spite of this knowledge. \n\nSecond, to those who are blaming Dr. Lerner, I suggest that you rethink how well you know your students. Do you constantly assume they are lying to you? Are you always suspicious that they have deliberately falsified data? I would guess that most mentors work closely with their students early on, but back off as students reveal themselves to be mature and capable. I doubt you sit side-by-side, running every analysis together, or that you meticulously double-check your advanced students' work. One of the goals of graduate training is fostering independence. In addition, most of the mentors I have known actually like their students, and I'm sure this fondness makes them even less likely to suspect students of actions that are damaging to both student and mentor. \n\nI think Dr. Lerner and the other professors should be commended for handling the situation as well as they did. Perhaps they could have taken advantage of their data protection systems earlier and addressed the problems sooner, but it sounds like they acted as soon as there was reason for suspicion. I can only imagine how frustrating and painful these revelations were for them. \n\nI have thought a lot about situations like this, and I still can't wrap my head around how intelligent adults could do this to themselves, their mentors/collaborators, and the field. It would be easier to explain if they didn't know better or had inadequate mentoring, but if those excuses don't fit, what's left?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

September 4, 2008

Roxana is to blame, no doubt. In my opinion she should not be allowed to receive any funding and should not ever work in research again. But I also think all authors, and in particular first authors, are responsible. All the professors co-authors are to blame too and should be sanctioned rather than get "commended" for their "handling of the situation".
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

September 4, 2008

It is an unfortunate coincidence that Ms. Roxana Gonzalez shares the same last name as a senior faculty in the SDS Department, CMU. I hope that this issue is not going to wrongly tarnish the reputation of decent Gonzalezs at Carnegie Mellon University.

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Mettler Toledo
BD Biosciences
BD Biosciences