Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Academic (Dis-)Honesty

A few days ago, I stumbled upon the following article. Apparently, the work of a group of researchers, related to stem cell research, was found to have many inconsistencies, enough to suspect academic dishonesty. Of course, an expert panel was assembled to conduct an investigation, and apparently the conclusion was that a PhD student in the team falsified data. The faculty involved in the research was absolved of any wrong-doing.

All parties deny any mischief and the student, in particular, attributes everything to an honest mistake. Personally, I don't buy it. In fact, I don't think it was only the student who was at fault. But I am no one to judge, and can't really know the ultimate truth. However, I have seen this happening. I have first-hand experience of people falling to the temptation of academic dishonesty, which is probably why I am skeptic of the innocence of those involved. This case seems to show the same signs as what I have seen before.

To anyone reading this that happen to work in a field of research: stay away from this. Don't fall into this trap. No matter how innocuous it may seem to be. Maybe you think it's just a little detail that you're fabricating, that doesn't really affect the overall result... just for aesthetic purposes... don't do it. Don't lie, because chances are you will be caught in your lie.

Also, you may think you are above this. "I would never even think of doing this, so there's no problem with me". Trust me, you will be tempted. You're working on that paper, the deadline is approaching... your performing experiments, cranking results. Everything is going great... crap! the machine broke! It's the last batch of experiments, but all the other repetitions were fine! You KNOW it's going to be OK... but don't have time to perform the last batch of tests before the deadline. But you KNOW what the results will be... what if you just say you did it and submit the paper. I mean, you're going to perform the experiment anyways, what's the harm? Don't do it.

While working in my field of research, I've the privilege to work with some of the most respected researchers in my field. One of them once told me: "The only thing you really have in this line of work is your reputation...". Sound advice. You don't want to put out there stuff that, later on, you might regret being associated with. Think about it next time you're about to report on the results of your latest research work.

Update: A friend of mine gave me this link to another report about the same incident with a slightly different take on the story.