Finding falsification – and fighting it
Allegations of fraud can take a long time to show up and can take even longer to investigate and prove. But the process is worth it: Innovation will falter without integrity.
On page 57 of this issue, editor Hank Hogan takes an in-depth look at research misconduct, from the difficulties associated with identifying it, to how scientists in our industry can educate themselves (and others) on how to fight it. The article also looks at policies and procedures currently in place that can help deter and uncover future falsification, fabrication and plagiarism in scientific research.
Remember the bubble fusion scandal? That particular case certainly took a long time to develop. In autumn 2008, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., stripped nuclear engineering professor Rusi P. Taleyarkhan of his named professorship after a university appeals committee upheld findings that he had falsified research records not once but twice in reporting his work on sonofusion.
In the March 2002 issue of Science, Taleyarkhan reported that he was the first to demonstrate sonofusion in a beaker. The technique, also known as bubble fusion, involves using sound waves to compress bubbles in deuterated liquids to the point of collapse, producing fusion normally only possible with enormous, expensive machinery.
Creating cheap, unlimited energy using this technique would have been a wonderful thing – if the technique had worked. But other scientists were unsuccessful in their attempts to duplicate the results he had reported, and allegations of falsification began to swirl.
The first time the university officially looked into the matter, it issued a statement in February 2007 that the evidence “does not support the allegations of research misconduct” and closed the investigation.
And then the US Congress got involved. The chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight for the House Committee on Science and Technology sent a letter to Purdue’s president in May 2007, chastising the school for failing to follow its own rules about research misconduct investigations and for failing to review the research in question to see whether it was indeed valid.
After another inquiry, which concluded in July 2008 with findings of misconduct, Taleyarkhan was sanctioned by the university through the removal of his title and discretionary funds.
The outcome of this case serves to underscore not only the importance of integrity in the research process but also the vital role that government can take in addressing lab fraud when internal investigations into alleged misconduct are flawed.
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