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
Aug 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published in Biological Psychiatry (cited 4 times since it was published), was retracted in January 2007 and republished in the same journal without a table of analyses based on cortisol values which Gonzalez had falsified.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.