Each year, amidst the technological breakthroughs and pioneering research studies that emerge from the scientific community, a few bad eggs warrant headlines of their own. Below is The Scientist’s roundup of some of the most scandalous happenings in the life science over the past 12 months.
Following a report by Politico that Price had used taxpayer dollars to charter private planes, he announced his resignation. Following a brief stint by interim secretary Don Wright, Eric Hargan, a lawyer from Chicago who previously served as deputy secretary of HHS, now leads the department, which oversees the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Meanwhile, another arm of the government, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), has struggled with its own controversy. In June, President Trump nominated former economics professor and radio personality Sam Clovis as the agency’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics. Again, the nomination was widely questioned, with critics in this case citing Clovis’s lack of credentials in science or agriculture.
But it was Clovis’s apparent knowledge of foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos’s role in talks arranged between Russian officials and the Trump campaign that would push Clovis to request to be withdrawn from consideration last month. For now, Chavonda Jacobs-Young, who holds graduate degrees in wood and paper science, continues to serve as undersecretary until a new nominee is confirmed.
Murder in Chicago
In details that emerged from a hearing at the Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago on August 20, prosecutors alleged that Lathem had been in a romantic relationship with the victim, Trenton Cornell-Duranleau, and that Lathem and Warren had conspired to kill Cornell-Duranleu and themselves. Both men have admitted to the stabbing but each pleaded not guilty to six counts of first-degree murder.
Gender discrimination lawsuits
The plaintiffs, Beverly Emerson, Vicki Lundblad, and Katherine Jones, are three of four female full professors at Salk, out of nearly three dozen professors. A little more than a month after the accusations were levied, a report on the financial gender gaps at the institute bolstered the women’s claims, finding that while female faculty brought in more than twice as much funding from the National Institutes of Health, they oversee much smaller labs and receive less support from Salk.
Then, in September, similar accusations surfaced at J. Craig Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics (SG), where former employee Teresa Spehar is suing for gender discrimination.
Sexual harassment allegations
That same month, three Dartmouth College professors, Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen, were placed on paid leave and barred from the campus while the university investigates allegations of sexual misconduct. And at the University of Rochester, brain sciences professor Florian Jaeger faces accusations of sexual harassment and intimidation.
These and other examples have prompted some to challenge how academic institutions typically handle such transgressions. With regard to Jaeger’s case, for example, hundreds of faculty members from around the world signed an open letter expressing their disappointment with how the university responded to accusations and calling for changes to the institution’s culture and leadership.
Such changes are imperative—and underway—beyond the University of Rochester, bioethicists say. “In recent years, sexual harassment complaints are a hot-button item, which institutions of higher learning are acting swiftly and decisively to eliminate,” Terry Leap, a professor in the department of management at the University of Tennessee, told The Scientist earlier this year. “The adverse media publicity and potential monetary liability pose too great a risk to simply sweep the matter under the rug.”
- In late July, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology found nearly 486 researchers guilty of participating in a peer-review fraud scam involving the nomination of fictitious or paid peer reviewers.
- In August, the University of Tokyo determined that researcher Yoshinori Watanabe tampered with images in five prominent publications.
- That same month, Parkinson’s researcher Yoshihiro Sato of Mitate Hospital in Tagawa, Japan, requested that three of his published papers be withdrawn from the literature, bringing his total retractions to 17.
- In late September, Yiheng Percival Zhang, a biofuels researcher at Virginia Tech, was arrested on charges of misusing federal grant funds totaling more than $1 million, in conjunction with postdoc Chun You and former student Zhiguang Zhu.
- In October, the Expert Group on Scientific Misconduct at Sweden’s Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN) weighed in on a case The Scientist has been covering for years—that of surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who has previously been found guilty of misconduct regarding the synthetic trachea transplantations he conducted that led to the death of at least three patients. The CEPN’s investigation found evidence of misconduct in all six of Macchiarini’s publications it reviewed.
- Last month, 19 editorial board members of Scientific Reports resigned from the journal over a 2016 study that was allegedly plagiarized but that the journal refused to retract.