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Neuroscientist Faked Data

A researcher who studied neurodegenerative diseases made up results from experiments yet to take place in order to apply for more funds.

By | January 8, 2013

FLICKR, STEAKPINBALLPaul Muchowski, a neuroscientist formerly at the Gladstone Institute for Neurological Disease in San Francisco has been censured for fabricating data in three National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications.

In a Federal Register notice released yesterday (January 7), the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) announced that Muchowski, who studies the molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases caused by protein misfolding and aggregation, reported results from experiments that had not yet been carried out in one funded NIH grant and two submitted NIH grant applications.

A dozen of Muchowski’s published papers have been cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. No papers were called into question by the investigation, carried out by the Gladstone Institutes and overseen by the ORI. But Muchowski has agreed to have his research supervised for 2 years and to not serve on any NIH committees for the same period.

The Gladstone Institutes told Retraction Watch that Muchowski resigned last month, and that they had been alerted to the misconduct by one of his colleagues at the institution.

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Avatar of: jeenious

jeenious

Posts: 37

January 8, 2013

Debates over ethics will never end, it seems.  And one of the oldest and most incurable of dilemmas we face have to do with ends and means.

Most of us humans -- though few of us agree on just where, or in what scenarios the "proper" line should be drawn -- agree that there are situations in which the end justifies the means.  Some examples are:  killing a fellow human in self-defense; killing violent criminals to make an example of them to potential others; killing enemy combattants in wars; killing innocent non-combattants as "collateral damage," where that may assure our national security; betraying the trust of a friend if that friend has violated a law we believe should be upheld; telling a mother her baby is beautiful, when we do not actually think so...

Perhaps there have been instances in which a professor plagiarizes a student who has made a brilliant observation or discovery, and where the professor doubts the student will succeed, as he would, in availing the world of that important tid bit (one of mine did once).

More and more takings of liberties in reporting outcomes of experiments are being uncovered these days.  More and more peer review papers are being found to be "doctored," or at least "slanted" a bit to please a patron or a potential grant source.

Many of us would agree that personal benefit or advantage, just for self-advancement, or academic survival, or job survival, or for personal greed, or for sake of gaining popularity or an enhanced reputation among colleagues is never a case of the end justifying the means.

Ethical normatives are not as simple and clear and obvious -- not as cut and dried -- as casual thinking might lead us to suppose.

In science, as in law, as in politics, as in accounting standards, as in just about every form of human experience... there is no empirical way to test and find any  grounds for where to draw a fine straight line between studying nature in just the right way, and studying it the wrong way.

There's a whole lot of gray area between what each and all would say is absolutely unacceptable and absolutely okay.

Maybe that's why we do best to have panels of judges to kick around the details of a misreporting, rather than try to make some one-size-fits-all rules that will settle things instantly, in each and every scenario.

Is the instant case (set out in this article) clearly beyond the pale of any extenuation?

I think so.  But that's just my take on it.  Yours may be better.

Avatar of: BobD

BobD

Posts: 20

January 8, 2013

This article is a little confusing in that it qualifies fabricated data with the term "from experiments yet to take place."  If you had a good lawyer, you MIGHT make the questionable case that reporting results which were subsequently confirmed by your experimentation is a gray area (although I wouldn't buy it).  However, the ORI report states that images from the papers were mislableled to support the conclusions.  This is garden-variety fabrication for which there can be no justification.

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