The Office of Research Integrity has thrown a heavy book at Bengu Sezen, a former chemist at Columbia University, alleging that school and agency investigators turned up 21 instances of research misconduct by the disgraced scientist.
Based on the findings of an investigation by Columbia University (CU) and additional analysis conducted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) during its oversight review, ORI found that Bengu Sezen, former graduate student, Department of Chemistry, CU, engaged in misconduct in science in research funded by National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant R01 GM60326. Specifically, ORI made twenty-one (21) findings of scientific misconduct against Dr. Sezen based on evidence that she knowingly and intentionally falsified and fabricated, and in one instance plagiarized, data reported in three (3) papers* and her doctoral thesis.
According to Chemical&Engineering News, Columbia officials are seeking to have Sezen stripped of her doctorate. When we asked Retraction Watch readers about this step in general, the response was clear: More than 90% said a dissertation built on fraudulent research must not stand (well, what they really said was that if a paper stemming from dissertation research wound up being retracted for reasons of fraud, the degree should be revoked).
Although for-now-doctor Sezen certainly deserves her punishment, we’re curious about how the ORI decides to mete out justice. So far in 2010 the agency has issued reports on eight cases of misconduct. Of those, all but two researchers — Sezen and Scott Brodie, a former University of Washington virologist who falsified figures in NIH grants and progress reports, as well as several published papers — received debarment of no more than three years. Brodie tops the list at seven years.
Sezen’s case is similar to that of Emily Horvath, who falsified figures while doing graduate work at Indiana University on NIH-sponsored projects. For her misdeeds, which resulted in three retractions, Horvath received a three-year sanction from ORI.
We’ve asked ORI’s John Dahlberg to comment on the penalty issue. We’ll update this post when we learn more.