Publication Ban Affects Former Collaborators

When the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders fired neurologist Allen Braun, the agency also barred his colleagues from publishing data collected over a 25-year period.

By | February 23, 2017

WIKIMEDIA, US GOVERNMENTAt least fifteen former National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) researchers and their collaborators are prohibited from publishing certain data because of a controversy surrounding one former faculty member’s alleged misconduct, Science reported this week (February 22). After a 2016 audit called neurologist Allen Braun’s research conduct into question, NIDCD fired him and barred his colleagues and trainees from publishing any studies based on Braun’s data, going back to 1992.

Although the audit suggests that Braun’s research conduct was not quite up to snuff, those who worked his lab say that they deserve the right to use their data. As Science noted, the agency has not called for retractions of any currently published studies that make use of these data sets. Some of the scientists in his lab were working on areas that suffer from a dearth of studies, such as stuttering.

“We’re truly collateral damage,” Nan Bernstein Ratner of the University of Maryland in College Park, who spent five years collaborating with Braun, told Science. “The process has been—you can use this term—surreal.”

The audit, obtained by Science, described Braun’s alleged transgressions as deviations from experimental protocol, but not necessarily an indication of problems with his data. Although Braun violated protocol by not signing off on patient histories for 206 of 424 volunteers audited, for instance, the agency’s report also noted that all but five of these 206 patients had already been assessed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for unrelated studies. “There’s nothing here that would flaw this data in any way,” Joshua Shimony, a neuroradiologist at Washington University in St. Louis who is familiar with Braun’s research, but was not affected by the publication ban, told Science.

But the federal research agency won’t budge. When University of Toronto’s Jed Meltzer, who worked as a postdoc in Braun’s lab from 2006 to 2010 and then continued collaborating with him, wrote to the agency requesting the release of his data, the response was unequivocal. “We regret NIDCD cannot approve further publications,” Carter Van Waes of NIDCD responded, according to Science.  

Bernstein Ratner of the University of Maryland told Science that two of her graduate students have had to change thesis topics as a result of the data-use ban, and one of her undergraduates had to nix submitting a manuscript.

Meanwhile, “I have a graduate student who’s got a paper he can’t publish,” Meltzer told Science. “It’s like one-quarter of his Ph.D.”

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