Sample Case Study

Case Study – Research Misconduct and Consequences

Adapted from the Resources for Research Ethics Education, Case Study 2 under Research Misconduct, Copyright ASM Press, 2000, Scientific Integrity by F.L. Macrina ( misconduct/#discussion)

A graduate student, working on a project that involves extensive DNA sequencing, provides his mentor with a computer generated sequence of a gene. The student tells his mentor that the sequence determination has involved complete analysis of both strands of the DNA molecule. Over the next several months, it is determined that not all of the sequence data reflects analysis of both DNA strands. Indeed, follow-up work by a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory reveals several mistakes in the sequence. The student in question admits to misleading his mentor and, following appropriate investigation, is found guilty of scientific misconduct and dismissed from the graduate program. The mentor realizes that the student presented some of the erroneous data at a regional scientific meeting. Proceedings of the meeting were not published but abstracts of all of the works presented were distributed to approximately 100 meeting participants. In addition the student, with the mentor’s permission, sent the sequence by electronic mail to three other laboratories. What, if any, responsibility does the faculty mentor have with regard to disclosing the above developments? What, if anything should the mentor do about the prematurely released data? Under these circumstances, what is the potential for harm coming from this incident of scientific fraud? Who might be harmed?

Sample discussion questions:

Define fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.

Give at least three examples of misconduct by researchers that would not meet the existing or proposed definitions of research misconduct. In your institution, what can be done about these types of misconduct?

In your institution, what formal procedures or mechanisms (e.g., ombudsman, conflict resolution, arbitration, mediation) are available to help resolve disputes or questions about the responsible practice of science?

If you were accused of having fabricated data that you had produced, how could you demonstrate that you have actually obtained the results you reported?