Misconduct

Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences logo. The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) defines "misconduct" as the falsification or fabrication of data or plagiarism. This definition is referred to as the FFP definition of misconduct. Misconduct, if discovered, results in retraction of publications, debarment from grants funded by any government agency, usually ranging from three years to a maximum of lifetime debarment. In extreme cases, one may lose one's professional license, as in the case of Andrew Wakefield, or serve jail time, as in the case of Scott Reuben. Even a three-year debarment could permanently ruin one's career as a researcher.

Misconduct differs from bad science and honest mistakes although all three may result in publication retractions; however, only misconduct results in debarment. Retractions resulting from honest mistakes are sometimes praiseworthy. Such was the case in a retraction by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI). Stuart Baker and Daniel Sargent are interested in the efficiency of randomized clinical trials. Their publication in JNCI was read and replicated by Richard Simon who found their results interesting. Simon found that their calculations contained biases. Upon reading Simon's review and replicating his experiment, Baker and Sargent found that Simon was correct and their method was flawed. They immediately requested that their own paper be retracted. A question under dispute is whether retractions in cases like that of Baker and Sargent should be labeled "retractions" or should they be labeled "withdrawals". Should "retraction" be reserved for cases of misconduct?

FFP misconduct damages more than the scientific record. The general public may be harmed as a result of misconduct, such as in the case with Andrew Wakefield's total disregard for proper oversight of human subjects research resulting in a clear decline in MMR vaccinations of children. Medical research where misconduct occurs, especially where medical research is included in Clinical Translational Science programs, may result in harm to patients both as subjects of research and in implementing research in clinical practice. "Healing" the scientific knowledge base is painless and easy--retractions of journal articles--in comparison to healing human subjects and patients.