Falsification, Fabrication
and Plagiarism: Research Misconduct Right Here in Bayou City? (New Link on bottom re: MD Anderson)

By

Leonard Zwelling

         The journal Biochemical
Pharmacology
has retracted 7 papers by MD Anderson investigator Bart
Aggarwal:

http://retractionwatch.com/2016/02/22/journal-retracts-7-papers-by-md-anderson-researcher-long-under-investigation/

         This story of allegations of research misconduct has been
around for quite a while now and perhaps we should not be surprised by it.
There is even a new journal about the lack of reproducible results:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/if-you-fail-reproduce-another-scientist-s-results-journal-wants-know

         My colleagues and I found problems rampant at MD Anderson
when we used an anonymous questionnaire to ask faculty and students about their
experiences regarding the reproducibility of data. Here’s the publication that
emerged:

Mobley A, Linder SK, Braeuer
R, Ellis L, and Zwelling L: “A Survey on Data Reproducibility in Cancer
Research Provides Insights into Our Limited Ability to Translate Findings from
the Laboratory to the Clinic”, PLOS ONE, May 15, 2013 (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.006322)

         Perhaps there should be no surprise here either. There are
many possible factors to explain the irreproducibility of data from the uniqueness
of reagents, to the genetic peculiarities of the experimental mice, to the technical
skills of the investigators to the more nefarious explanations of fabrication
and fraud.

         The underlying causes, explicable and inexcusable, indicate
that the etiology of the cause is a very important distinction to make. As more
and more of the findings in academia find their way into the labs of the
pharmaceutical industry, the vital nature of those findings to products that
may alter the natural history of human diseases becomes more critical and
dependent on the veracity of those data. If people are falsifying data, there
will be no progress against cancer and other deadly diseases. This has alarmed
the pharmaceutical industry as my colleague Lee Ellis has noted:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7391/full/483531a.html

         It is interesting that the influx of fraud and non-reproducible
research results seems to coincide with the explosion in financial conflicts of
interest in academic medicine. I doubt this is a coincidence at all. The stakes
are higher and the money is greater and the manner in which money translates
into centralized power as it has at MD Anderson could not be clearer.

         So I will leave you with two suggestions.

         The first is my usual one. “If you see something, say
something.” If someone is doing funny tricks in the lab or his or her
experiments look a little too perfect at lab meeting, say something to the
boss, even though the boss’ intimidation of his or her H-1B Visa students may
be the problem that led to the fraud in the first place. In many cultures
keeping the boss happy trumps honesty. Keeping your job often begets bad
behavior. If it can happen in the Oval Office, it can happen in your lab.

There
is an outlet if all else fails and that is the Research Integrity Officer (RIO)
who must take into account all allegations of research misconduct and do a
comprehensive and confidential inquiry into their validity. This position and
its associated policy are mandated by law and by an institutional agreement
with the NIH whose funds slosh through MD Anderson. Having had that job (RIO) for
many years, I had to do so some pretty unsavory things when conducting
inquiries and investigations like sequestering all the research data of a lab
investigator, but it is for the protection of the accused that the rules were
written in DC and on Holcombe. It is best if they are followed and that this mechanism
used when needed.

         So say something to your supervisor and if that doesn’t work
there is a higher authority. I can assure you saying nothing, which I myself
admit to having done and regretted it during my days in the lab, is never the
right choice for the patients or the science. What is worse, it allows a really
bad actor to go on trying to fool the world. Unfortunately, they often succeed.

IMPORTANT LINK sent to me by blog reader:

Leonard Zwelling