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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Paul Muchowski, sanctioned last month by the ORI for falsely reporting results, offers an apology

with 53 comments

muchowskip111Late last month, we reported on the case of Paul Muchowski, a former Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease researcher who was found by the Office of Research Integrity to have “falsely reported research experiments when the results did not exist at the time the grant applications were submitted.” At the time, Muchowski, who resigned from the Gladstone in November of last year, said he had no comment. Tonight, he sent us an apology and clarification to the scientific community, and asked us to post it. Here, we present Muchowski’s letter, unedited:

Apology and Clarification

To Members of the Community:

The purpose of this letter is to express my sincere remorse and apologies to the community. Recently, the Health and Human Services (HHS) agency, which oversees the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), concluded that I was responsible for incidents of scientific misconduct. Based on extensive feedback and questions I have received from the community and the paucity of media information provided, I feel that it may be helpful to try to clarify some questions publicly.

The ORI found that I “falsely reported research experiments when the results did not exist at the time the grant applications were submitted.” In these instances, I stated that the experiments had, in fact, been performed prior to their completion. Based on previous experience with such experiments, I believed that I could perform these experiments by the time that my grant would be reviewed. These experiments were successfully completed or found to be non-essential for the research program, but only after the grants were reviewed.

Although the experiments in question were not critical for determining the fate of the grant applications, I now know with conviction and remorse to only include the data I have at hand and have checked myself. I realize that any shortcuts in drafting the grant applications are wrong and are not acceptable scientific procedure. I will never again commit such mistakes. Moreover, numerous other grant applications I submitted were also thoroughly examined and were found to lack any misconduct; i.e., the findings of misconduct reflect an isolated mistake.

I hasten to add that my research findings have never been in question. There will be no retractions based on these findings. In fact, the grant that was at issue was not withdrawn and I am still receiving funding from that grant.

According to the HHS, “The purpose of HHS administrative actions is remedial. The appropriate administrative action is commensurate with the seriousness of the misconduct, and the need to protect the health and safety of the public, promote the integrity of the PHS supported research and research process, and conserve public funds” 42 CFR 93.408.

One important criteria that the ORI uses to determine sanctions focuses on impact: “Did the misconduct have significant impact on the proposed or reported research record, research subjects, other researchers, institutions, or the public health or welfare?” Id.. In my case, it was determined that there was no impact on the proposed or reported research record, research subjects, other researchers, institutions, or the public health or welfare as a result of my inappropriate actions.

I unquestionably committed serious errors in judgment. I regret these completely. I had no intention of misleading the research community about our research studies in any way. My mistakes in judgment contained in the grant applications had no material effect on the outcome of that research.

I would like to reassure everyone that the results of our research studies are sound and have never been called into question. Even the one grant that was intensively reviewed during these proceedings was never revoked. The ORI has requested that I enter into supervised research for the next two years. They have also requested that I not serve on NIH grant review committees for these two years. These constraints are spelled out in a Voluntary Settlement Agreement that I signed. While to some members of the public these sanctions appear mild, they are consistent with the lack of material impact of my wrongdoings. Indeed, Dr. John Dahlberg, Deputy Director of the ORI, stated “This administrative action is meant to assure that [my] research is accurately reported in grant applications, manuscripts and public presentations, and is not intended to prevent [me] from pursuing a promising career in science”.

I am utterly remorseful and penitent for my mistakes and wrongdoings. Finding treatments and cures for Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders is my driving passion. I hope that I can continue to work and collaborate with others around the world, focusing on the future.

Sincerely,

muchowski

Paul J. Muchowski

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Written by Ivan Oransky

January 9, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Posted in ori investigations

53 Responses

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  1. It’s good to see a researcher come out and put something in public, it doesn’t seem to happen that often in cases like these.

    Also, just curious, how many people reading this have themselves, or known someone who has, put in an abstract for a conference before the results were out? (i.e. not made up the results, but put in an abstract hoping you’d have the results done in time to present). It happens all the time as far as I’m aware, and while that it perfectly legitimate it’s only a fine line from there to just popping in some results….

    We seem to be operating in a scientific system which thrives on the latest novel results and wants them ASAP, or needs them asap in order to put into a conference presentation, rack up another publication, or as in the case here, some prelim results for a grant application (even take a look at the PHD movie, where the graduate hands his supervisor his latest results literally after pulling an all-nighter at a conference – no double-checking, no repetition. Sure I know it’s fiction, but it’s comedy and we laugh because it reflects truth to some degree). Is stepping over that line and making up non-existent results wrong? Of course. Am I surprised at all that it happens? Not in the least.

    Maybe it’s time we started toning down this ridiculous pursuit of novel findings, and focused more on their certainty.

    Booker

    January 9, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    • With grant applications, it is somewhat more serious than with conference abstracts. It is like marathon-runners competing with a person who runs a half-marathon. The latter wins, collects his trophy, and then runs the second half-marathon to make sure the overall distance for all participants is the same. This is not right. The fact the trophy winner feels it can easily run another half-marathon AFTER he has been awarded the prize is irrelevant. Because of this I do not think Paul Muchowski is correct when he states that “there was no impact on the proposed or reported research record, research subjects, OTHER RESEARCHERS, institutions, or the public health or welfare as a result of my inappropriate actions.”. PM says that all his published research is sound and I believe him because it is giant leap from fudging grant applications to falsifying research whose results are then publicly available for everybody to scrutinize and repeat.

      chirality

      January 10, 2013 at 3:34 am

    • There mere fact that this statement is out there is a step in the right direction, but in parts it reads like a non-apology-apology, a plea for absolution without complete contrition and firm purpose of ammendment (I went to Catholic School). In places, Dr. M implies that an absence of impact renders some of his offenses moot. I disagree. In particular, the phrase “experiments were completed OR found to be non-essential” suggests that certain experiments were never actually done (emphasis mine). That’s relevant only to the sentencing phase of this affair, not the verdict itself.

      @Booker: I’m not exactly sure what you mean by results being “out.” I’ve personally never seen or heard of anyone putting FALSE data into an abstract submission, nor making an explicit statement regarding non-existent data. There are, of course, gray areas. I have seen people write abstracts that leave open the possibility that experiments might get done and yield a certain result. For example, if most, but not all arms of an experiment had been done with a suitable number of replicates, but a small subset was just shy of the appropriate number of repeats, it would probably be o.k. to include a carefully worded reference to those data in a conference abstract. Saying n=4 when n really equalled 3, however, is completely unacceptable under any circumstances.

      Notthatclever

      January 10, 2013 at 11:34 am

      • Yes sorry I was meaning ‘results were out’ as in, before the experiments had been completed. I agree with the other comments here that it is completely unacceptable to put false, made up data in a meeting abstract, but there seems to be a common practice of toeing right up to that fine line by putting in leading statements about what results the researchers expect, hoping that the experiments will be complete and data in agreement with their statements by the time the conference comes around. And given this is common practice, it makes me wonder how often people are taking that next step…

        Booker

        January 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      • I agree about the “non-apology”. We could paraphrase it as “I now know that lying is wrong because sometimes you can get caught.” That’s the kind of apology I have arguments with a kindergartner about, so that when they grow up, they’ll no that lying is wrong before they get caught.

        My take home from this report and the resulting sanctions (none except that he promises he won’t make stuff up in the future?) is that ORI is extremely limited in its ability to enforce the official standards of science.

        Reading this entry makes me sad about science.

        zb

        February 12, 2013 at 10:53 pm

  2. I found this apology to be sincere and compelling. But then I re-read the ORI summary report and remembered that the most concerning issue was not false claims about producing certain key reagents, but rather data falsification. These issues are not addressed by Dr. Muchowski. Specifically, he described results of experiments that were not conducted:

    “the Respondent claimed to have tested immunoblots of lysates from primary neurons with an antibody against mutant htt, which demonstrated that levels of htt expression in transduced cells were roughly equivalent to levels in normal neurons, when the experiment was not conducted”

    And also apparently fabricated results:

    “falsified Figure 3 of grant application R01 NS054753-06 by labeling the Western blot images for the expression of mutant htt in lentiviral-transduced primary neurons as ‘Cortex’ (left panel) and ‘Striatum’ (right panel), when the results were actually from the microglial cell lines N9 and BV2, respectively.”

    Is this in dispute? I would prefer that his letter addressed these issues more clearly. The existing letter is a bit self-serving in that it apologizes only for the least egregious transgressions.

    Nevertheless, I wish him the best. He has made numerous valuable contributions, but his days as a top level scientist are likely over. While his existing grant may have a bit of funding left it will be very difficult for him to receive further funding. Even if this stain were not attached, it will be very difficult for him to be productive over the next few years without a position or staff.

    Jobin

    January 10, 2013 at 2:24 am

  3. It should be “One important criterion . . .”.

    Matthias

    January 10, 2013 at 9:28 am

  4. I find it disturbing that someone would think it acceptable to make up and publish data (for a grant OR for a conference) as a placeholder until the correct data comes along. THe idea that this might be commonplace in conference proceedings is horrifying. (Conference proceeding might include poorly replicated data but should not, under any circumstances, include imaginary data. The proportion of proceeding that survive to publication is bad enough already.)

    Dr Muchowski acknowleges reporting fabricated data but says that his experience allowed him to believe he could replace these data – and that should make everything alright. One of the pathologies of “abnormal science” is that the investigator “knows that the result is true and its just a matter of doing the experiment”. This is not acceptable logic. When the experiment “does not work” or is never performed, the fabrication remains. What happens if a student questions the data? Does the supervisor say, “Don’t worry I just made that up.” or do problems result?

    This seems to be a pretty clear case of misconduct – albeit, according to him, with no lasting stain on the literature. Dr Muchowski’s rationalization of this behaviour, where he describes his infraction as minor and of having no lasting impact, tells me that he is an excellent candidate for an appropriate re-education program about proper scientific methods and reporting. Dr Muchowski seems to be a capable researcher, but in my opinion, needs to think more carefully about what he is doing. Perhaps the students, PDFs, and techs working in his group should also receive some instruction before they think this behaviour is fine. Even the granting officers who continue to pay out from the awarded grant should probably be given some instruction about reasonable scientific reporting.

    Obviously, I think the responses from all involved are inadequate and contribute to the continuing problems with abnormal science. This is the kind of thing that needs to addressed. People who do science research need to think about why larger frauds occur over entire careers – sometimes it may start with a single “fib” that becomes a lie, that ends up as a career.

    I hope those commenters that think fabricated data is commonplace in conference proceeding are incorrect and realize that it is unacceptable. (Even something common can still be wrong.)

    ROB

    January 10, 2013 at 11:45 am

    • Unfortunately, I think it is all too common. Especially for those conferences that have abstract deadlines many months before the meeting, a certain proportion of presenters will make a vague statement based on extremely preliminary data or expectations based on how a control experiment “should” work. When the data set is complete, it can turn out that the results are different from expectations, which can be embarrassing. I have seen at least one poster in which the conclusions have ended up being exactly the opposite from those written in the abstract.

      Two important points:

      First, the system maintains integrity. Even though it involves the consumption of significant amounts of crow, the presenters admit that they screwed up. I don’t in any way condone the behavior, but I would rather have a sheepish colleague fess up about their mistakes.

      Second, meeting abstracts should be considered preliminary, and should not ever, ever, ever be cited. Even if the data presented in the abstract are rock solid, wait for the actual paper. My favorite example, although it involves a certain amount of personal trauma, happened when we submitted an abstract naming a particular isoform (not its real name) “Protein Family Member 3.” The week before the meeting, another group published it as “Protein Family Member 2.” Therefore the correct name is theirs, because it is published in a peer-reviewed journal, and we accepted that name. Anyone who cites our abstract would be using the wrong name (which now indicates another protein), even though it is in a published meeting volume, and will just confuse things.

      stpnrazr

      January 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    • ROB: often, there is a considerable gap between the deadline for abstract submission and the opening session of a conference, typically 6-8 months. And the biggest is the event, the biggest is the gap. I speculate that this gap is understood by some PI as a chance to include hypothetical results, though not TOO hypothetical; or even as a good strategy to pressure their students. Something like soft bullying.

      Sylvain Bernès

      January 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    • I was one minute late compared to the stpnrazr’s comment, which I of course agree… Sorry for the duplication.

      Sylvain Bernès

      January 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm

  5. Only in science can you attempt to defraud the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars and not even lose your current funding.

    QAQ

    January 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm

  6. I’m not sure what bearing this may have, but I’d estimate that Dr. Muchowski’s response was extensively (>50%) rewritten by a lawyer from an original draft by Dr. Muchowski. For example, parts of the response track published ORI legal guidance rather too closely. The move to turn standard administrative language into a sort of back-handed personal endorsement by John Dahlberg is impressively slick, but looks professional. Hell, I personally admit to a fit of bitter jealousy and resentment because I’d never thought of using that move myself in analogous circumstances.

    Assuming that’s right, this all actually says good things about Dr. Muchowski. He cared enough to respond. He’s genuinely worried enough about the consequences of his actions to insist that a lawyer (who may, reflexively, have initially advised him not to respond) vet it carefully.

    He doesn’t fall dramatically on his sword, and the response is, in parts, rather finely spun; but this is fundamentally different from the sort of “platitudes-and-PR” that RW readers have seen in pathological cases. Whatever shortcomings the statement may have, they are the shortcomings of a normal person (albeit a normal person person represented by competent counsel) who just carelessly stepped on something unpleasant. He knows he should have watched where he stepped, he knows how badly it smells, he’s trying to scrape it off and move on; and he has a strong, clearly expressed,and hopefully abiding, intent not to make a similar mistake again. He isn’t ignoring it, beating the dog, trying to convince us that we’re delusional, or pretending it didn’t happen. To put it in scientific terms, the observed behaviors are entirely consistent with the null hypothesis, i.e. that Dr. Muchowski really is a responsible dude who simply screwed up, in a really spectacular but isolated way.

    Toby White

    January 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    • “In these instances, I stated that the experiments had, in fact, been performed prior to their completion. Based on previous experience with such experiments, I believed that I could perform these experiments by the time that my grant would be reviewed.”

      The fundamental problem I have with this explanation is that he’s saying that he thought it was OK to make up results because the experiments would eventually be done.

      DTruck

      January 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm

  7. I don’t understand why so many responses to this post are so full of nuanced language, especially if their authors are PIs like myself. Simply said – this guy reported results from experiments either not completed or even done as preliminary data in grant applications, in order to gain competitive advantage over other applications in his study section. THIS IS FRAUD, people! In order to win grant money, he cheated the same system that tells us we don’t have enough preliminary data to support our hypotheses, that triages our grants that take weeks to write at the sacrifice of our own science, time spent with our families over weekends and holidays, etc. As far as I’m concerned, this guy has stolen from us and our labs, using slightly more sophisticated methods than a common hoodlum or huckster. Are we really too genteel to appreciate this? I don’t care that his published papers are above reproach. I don’t care how many other grant applications were above board. I don’t care that he eventually did the experiments he hadn’t done at the time of submitting his grant. That he raises these as mitigating factors is only testament to his continued inability to understand exactly how malignant his sense of entitlement has become and how transparently self-serving this piece of tripe he offers as an apology really is.

    Also, from a puff piece I saw in SFGate (December 2012) on this guy and his dad, who appear to be working together, it seems he is still at UCSF and Gladstone. Are we sure he really resigned from the institute?

    DefendSmallScience!

    January 10, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    • My contribution to this board was based on my observation that Dr Muchowski does not think he did anything REALLY bad. It was only this grant and it wasn’t published – No harm no foul.

      That’s wrong – no explanations, no exceptions can make it acceptable. However, from reading his entire response, it seems likely the “powers that be” are going to let him continue to do research anyway but with enhanced monitoring.

      The fact he does not seem to appreciate how serious this was suggests to me he needs some education and honest reflection – and that does not appear to be part of monitoring (if the quote attributed to Dahlberg is in context).

      My opinion — yelling “Fraud”, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” seemed unnecesary and so I didn’t do it. (Maybe I spend too much time counciling graduate students on why they shouldn’t do certain things and have developed the skills to minimize the time they spend crying in my office.)

      ROB

      January 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      • The entire fiasco is laughable.

        We, as scientists of integrity, are being made a laughing stock ***** (self censored).

        I entered science to do good, to help others, to save lives.

        Science-fraudsters (who I was not even aware of until about 5 years ago) are from another planet, they think differently, act differently and are not going to get away with doing it.

        Not by a long shot.

        Stewart

        January 10, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      • Your skills with students sound quite admirable. Muchowski is not a student, though. His letter reveals either an astounding lack of insight, or more likely, equal parts self-preservation and self-delusion. If the “powers that be” allow him to continue running a lab, as you indicate, then this sends a powerful and horribly destructive message to trainees everywhere. That message seems to be if you want to commit fraud in science, just make sure you’re admired enough (one of the “cool kids”), so you’ll be able to get away with things in the end. Heaven help you if you’re not at a top institution like UCSF or happen to be a person of color or have a funny-sounding last name, because there will be no reprieve for you.

        DefendSmallScience!

        January 10, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    • Totally agree. I think this whole episode is outrageous and his letter is one big FU to the “community”. The NIH is totally spineless when it comes to stuff like this and I’m sick of their passive approach to fraud. Hell, why don’t I just make up all my data on my next application? Even if I get caught, I will still get to keep the grant, so I don’t see the downside.

      Dave

      January 11, 2013 at 9:46 am

  8. Mutant Huntingtin Fragments Form Oligomers in a Polyglutamine Length-dependent Manner in Vitro and in Vivo. THE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY VOL. 285, NO. 19, pp. 14777–14790, May 7, 2010
    Justin Legleiter………Paul J. Muchowski

    Supp figure 9. Very fine splice – easier to see in the middle of the lane
    Zoom into the PDF 600%.
    Lane HD46Q-GFP 48h, fifth lane from right, left of lane splice – very fine, one of the best I’ve seen for a while.

    http://www.jbc.org/content/285/19/14777.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes

    Can the corresponding author explain that splice and if there are any more in his publications?

    Stewart

    January 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    • That appears to me to be a JPEG artifact and not a splice, although I am not an expert in image analysis.

      RoPa

      January 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      • RoPa

        Erm, no, it’s not an artifact, I can assure you.

        To be crystal clear – a splice is not an artifact. The figure is in a PDF. How do you know the original image was a JPEG?

        I have hundereds of JPEGs, not a single one has a splice!

        Its a singleline splice at the edge of one lane. There are no other observable splices in THAT image.

        You may also observe a clear difference in the contrast at the edge of the splice – aqll the way down the gel image….. clear and undeniable evidence of a splice.

        I have observed several ‘irregularities’ in several papers I looked at today, but it would be useful if the author came clean here and I’ll let it go.

        Stewart

        January 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      • I, too, am not an image expert, but looking at that blot at 800%, there is a horizontal discontinuity that runs perpendicular to the vertical line mentioned above. (Best seen across lane 6, about 100-200 kDa above the 1000 kDa marker.) Is there an imaging processing artifact that can cause that?

        Assuming the vertical line mentioned above is a splice, why bother? It seems that the point of that gel is to demonstrate that the various mutants form oligomers of the approximate same size. The variance between Mr’s is far greater between lanes, than across the putative splice. Am I missing something?

        Khat

        January 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm

  9. Wait, so he makes up data on a grant app, which is then funded. He then gets caught and is allowed to keep said grant? WTF is that all about NIH? If I could make up experiments in grant apps, I would be funded every cycle. In times of diminishing grant funds at the NIH. I find this absolutely disgusting. The fact that this toolbag is also bragging about this is his “apology” is a punch in the gut to all the rest of us playing fair and trying to get grants the honest way.

    Dave

    January 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

    • I am sure he will never get any sympathy from people who either had their NIH grant application rejected or delayed submitting such an application because they did not have enough preliminary results. But from a practical standpoint, allowing him to wrap up the project makes sense. Otherwise, the money that has been spent so far will be wasted.

      chirality

      January 11, 2013 at 10:12 am

      • But are you going to trust his results?
        The money were wasted; they now waste time

        MT Orr

        January 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    • I’m unsure the important point is about the grant(s). The Muchowski’s letter quotes the ORI conclusions, which reads, word for word: [he] “falsely reported research experiments when the results did not exist [...]“. That’s the central point of the misconduct, regardless of context. Now, maybe you complain that the NIH don’t worry too much for ORI reports, or has not a clear policy regarding such cases? I agree, it’s an actual issue, but, again, not directly connected to the Muchowski’s letter.

      Sylvain Bernès

      January 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

      • If you think that the important point is NOT about the grants, then I am amazed. That is what this is all about.

        Dave

        January 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    • I agree, it sends the wrong message. As others has pointed out, there was an adverse effect for other scientists because someone more deserving did NOT get a grant because this guy got his through fraud. Perhaps someone was forced to leave science as a result. Also, note that his letter does not even mention not being allowed to apply for grants for N numbers of years. It seems like he’s good to go and can continue applying for grants.

      Average PI

      January 12, 2013 at 12:35 pm

  10. The NIH should have immediately withdrawn support for his research the minute the decision was made that he falsified data in order to win the grant in the first place. End of story. Allowing him to “wrap up the project” is not my concern; all bets are off once a guilty decision is handed down and, in any case, why should anyone trust him to “wrap up the project” in an honest and fair way? It cracks me up that people will spend hours of their lives on this site analyzing WB images for the tiniest indicator of, gasp, splicing, but they completely miss the bigger picture when it comes down to the nitty gritty of what to do with a fraudster who abuses NIH money (and what that means for science as a whole).

    Dave

    January 11, 2013 at 2:50 pm

  11. Khat wrote “…..looking at that blot at 800%, there is a horizontal discontinuity that runs perpendicular to the vertical line mentioned above. (Best seen across lane 6, about 100-200 kDa above the 1000 kDa marker.)……. Am I missing something?”

    You refered to supplementary figure 9 on the last page of the PDF below:

    http://www.jbc.org/content/285/19/14777.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes

    Yes, I see that horizontal discontinuity now, thank you Khat, well-spotted!

    Do you know why that is not a splice? – there is no difference in contrast on either side of it.

    However, when you look at the vertical splice, there are clear differences in contrast (shades of grey) on either side of the line, and the line is dark in parts, providing even clearer contrast to the lane to the left. Thats why the vertical ‘irregularity’ is a splice and the horizontal one is not.

    The authors are welcome to input here and I’ll be very courteous and polite in any response.

    If this was on Pauls science-fraud site, we could easily point this out with red arrows, enlargements, it really is very helpful in these matters.

    Stewart

    January 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm

  12. One of the problems here is that you generally need a significant amount of positive preliminary data in a grant application in order for it to be successful. The experiments required to generate these data (including false starts as the theories ultimately outlined in the grant application are generated) are expensive and unfunded.

    Thus, though it is in no way an excuse for such behaviors as were found to be true in this case, there is a real chicken-or-the-egg problem inherent in the grant funding system — you need to apply for funding to pursue a promising set of experiments, but in order to get said funding, you need to generate a significant amount of preliminary data, which requires a significant amount of expensive experimental effort for which there are no funds.

    Michael Coyne

    January 12, 2013 at 5:31 am

    • It is common knowledge that part of a grant is spent doing the pilot work for the next grant. This is precisely to get around the chicken and egg problem. Any NIH program officer probably knows about it and tolerates it, as long as it is within limits and helps generating good grant applications.

      Average PI

      January 12, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      • Sometimes average PI.

        But it should not be so.

        As for your “as long as it is within limits” comment, – can you expand?

        Stewart

        January 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm

  13. Dr. Muchowski is an interesting case. I personally feel that if it were 10 years ago, he would not have been investigated and caught. Simply stated, I feel that scientists weren’t as vigilant or willing to risk blowing the whistle. But times have changed, resources are so scarce, that somebody falsifying and fabricating data gives such a competitive advantage for funding, that it becomes a “if you eat/I starve scenario”.

    I think the other overlooked component, though speculative, is the postdoc factor. No one is in a better position to catch fabricated data on a federal grant than a postdoc. They know the science and what has been done, what reagents or animals the lab has. If something wasn’t done, they would likely be able to catch it.

    The NIH boom of the 90’s generated a large, underpaid, overworked and disgruntled population of scientists. The majority of them will never reach tenure track and the commensurate salary and wealth of a Dr. Muchowski. Combined with low NIH pay lines this has created a perfect storm for the conditions for misconduct, and being caught. I think this is the tip of the iceberg.

    Ronald Auktepus

    January 12, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    • Which is why I love RetractionWatch!

      Ronald Auktepus

      January 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    • And this “large, underpaid, overworked and disgruntled population of scientists” probably is even more likely to engage in misconduct, given the intense pressure.

      Average PI

      January 13, 2013 at 4:47 am

      • or look the other way if they see it, which is entirely understandable in the current climate of punishing whistleblowers and re-instating science-fraudsters.

        It is ethhically wrong, on all levels.

        So, where are the real, the honest hard-working postdocs, the scientists with integrity?

        Do we have any?

        Should one of the routes into tenure be for peers to go through the publications of candidates, and ensure there are no errors that have been “corrected” OR even retractions?

        Stewart

        January 13, 2013 at 5:51 am

      • Well Average PI, let’s look at the federal register from the US Department of Health and Human Services ORI for 2012:

        Elton, Terry: Professor
        Francis, Peter: Associate Professor
        Hauser, Marc: Professor
        Jian Ma: Fellow
        Kim, Sinae: Postdoc
        Mayack, Shane: Postdoc
        Miller, Michael W: Professor and Chair
        Muchowski, Paul J: Associate Professor
        Ravindranath, Mepur: Director
        Smart, Eric J: Professor
        Thiruchelvam, Mona: Assistant Professor
        Zach, Calleen S: Research Assistant
        Zhang, Shuang-Qing: Postdoc

        Care to do a count? That’s 8 faculty members, 4 postdocs and 1 tech. Seems to me like faculty members are getting a little naughty!

        Ronald Auktepus

        January 13, 2013 at 10:33 am

      • Ronalds data is irrefutable – its the PIs, not post-docs that are the main prepetrators, contrary to your suggestion.

        Stewart

        January 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

        • Irrefutable??? Hardly. There are many, MANY reasons to think that the ORI list is not representative of those that actually commit fraud. Postdocs may be more likely to turn in PIs than vice versa, as one simple explanation.

          DTruck

          January 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      • If we add up the years these people have been in academia post-PhD and calculate a ratio, a different picture would emerge. For a postdoc who has spent 5 years post-PhD, one instance of fraud is 4 times the rate of a professor who has spent 20 years in academia. Not saying this is the ideal measure, but absolute numbers are not very meaningful out of context.

        Average PI

        January 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  14. Faculty members are now committing more misconduct than Postdocs. Numbers are meaningful.

    Ronald Auktepus

    January 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    • The numbers you cite do not support your claims when a more meaningful rate figure is considered. Paul M. probably had zero instances of fraud while he was a postdoc.

      Average PI

      January 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

  15. For the second time in a week, we have had to edit ad hominem attacks out of comments, unapprove other comments, and contact some commenters to remind them of what’s appropriate.

    It may not be clear those who feel the need to resort to such personal attacks that they destroy the discourse that we have worked so hard to build on Retraction Watch, but it is abundantly clear to us and many others. The same goes for unfounded allegations and unverified facts.

    We will not tolerate these sorts of attacks, and will simply edit or delete comments that contain them. Until now, we have made an attempt to contact the commenters who left them, as long as they provided real email addresses, but given the volume, we will no longer be able to do that. If you have a question about why your comment was edited or removed, please use the email addresses provided in our About pages to contact us.

    Thanks to all of those who have contributed constructively. As our hat tips make clear, Retraction Watch would be much less robust without you.

    ivanoransky

    January 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

  16. Is Muchowski really saying in his letter that he thought it was OK to make up results because the experiments would be done before the grant was reviewed? If he expects us to believe that, then he really should be flushed, however it’s hard to tell because the second paragraph of his “apology” obfuscates the entire matter.

    I’d bet a fair amount of cash that he ends up with a sweet position in industry – especially given his family connections.

    DTruck

    January 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm

  17. Wow. That really is quite the nonpology. Agree with comments that the real issue is that someone else’s grant was not funded due to his cheating. It’s outrageous in these cases where the NIH keeps the project going under another PI.

    Personally I think they should pull the award, go back and offer the remaining $$$ to the best scoring grant that was passed over in the original FY.

    DrugMonkey

    January 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    • That’s an interesting view DrugMonkey.

      How do those who put in for grants feel about others winning the award using data they shouldn’t have?

      Stewart

      January 17, 2013 at 3:58 pm

  18. I am part of the scientific community and I am not convinced by many of Dr Muchowski’s statements:
    1) “The ORI found that I “falsely reported research experiments when the results did not exist at the time the grant applications were submitted.””
    Nowhere in his apology does he state: I falsely reported research experiments. That is how a real apology should begin, acknowledging that what the ORI found is true.
    2) “In these instances, I stated that the experiments had, in fact, been performed prior to their completion.”
    The experiments were not reported in the grant application prior to their “completion”. The experiments were reported in the grant application prior to their beginning. In fact, prior to even having the necessary reagents to carry out the experiments.
    3) “Although the experiments in question were not critical for determining the fate of the grant applications,……………”
    How does he know this? Aren’t preliminary results critical for the success of a grant application, as everyone knows?
    4) “I now know with conviction and remorse to only include the data I …………….have checked myself.”
    What is the meaning of this sentence? The problem here is not that he used data that was not checked directly by him. The problem is that he himself reported experiments that were never conducted.
    5) “In my case, it was determined that there was no impact on……………….,other researchers…………..”
    How about grant applications with less convincing preliminary data that were not funded because this particular fraudulent grant application was?
    6) “I had no intention of misleading the research community about our research studies in any way.”
    In my opinion, he seems to have had the intention of misleading the grant reviewers about the research studies presented in the application, with the objective of getting public funds for his research.
    7) “Indeed, Dr. John Dahlberg, Deputy Director of the ORI, stated “This administrative action is meant to assure that [my] research is accurately reported in grant applications………..”
    I don’t think that this statement strictly applies to this case, because the word “my” was added to the original statement. The problem in this case is not that his research was not “accurately” reported in the grant application. The problem is that the research reported in the grant application was not performed.

    Avel

    January 17, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    • Although the experiments in question were not critical for determining the fate of the grant applications,……………”
      How does he know this? Aren’t preliminary results critical for the success of a grant application, as everyone knows?

      Precisely.

      If he did not think that those data were needed to establish bona fides — his, or the project’s — he would not have invented them. Some of the data were (purportedly) the sorts of controls that one includes to establish that one is taking care with the work and that the work is appropriately rigorous. Other portions of the data (the immunoblots from cultured cells that were purported to come from tissue samples) were presumably included to establish relevance of the line of experimentation in vivo.

      These issues are at the core of an evaluation of a research proposal.

      As DefendSmallScience! and DrugMonkey have said, this is tantamount to theft from research groups who did not cheat (to say nothing of other taxpayers).

      Sadly, we have this week a precise analog in the sporting world.

      Throughout our talk, Armstrong’s shadow looms large. She has nothing but contempt for him. I suggest his apology could help clean up the sport, and the world might forgive him. She looks appalled. “He’s a criminal. He has stolen people’s livelihoods. There must be thousands of clean athletes scrabbling around on the bottom end of the employment structure because that’s all that’s possible, and he’s taken away their career.”

      Should he be in jail? “Of course, Lance Armstrong should go to jail. At the moment his punishment is not in line with the crimes he has committed. For the sport to genuinely clean itself up, the punishment has to be severe so not one would even think of doping.” Does she think he ever will be? “If he’s lied under oath, there should be legal consequences.” The worst thing is, she says, he’ll be back on the millionaire’s merry-go-round, post-Oprah. “They win races, they get paid, they get the fortune. Then if they get caught they admit it, they cry, then they write a book about it and make another fortune. So they win when they take drugs and they win after they’re caught. And that is horrendous.”

      Spiny Norman

      January 25, 2013 at 3:03 am

      • Spiny Norman – is that really you?

        Since I joined easy street, I’ve been doing honest blots for years now. Always nail my gel apparatus to the bench top like it says in the manual. Call off your figure sleuths. Inspector Snapper of the Yard knows all about my electrophoresis jobs.

        All the best for 2013,

        Dinsdale

        Scrutineer

        January 25, 2013 at 4:48 pm

  19. My experience with ORI:
    Date: May 12, 2013 9:37:22 PM GMT+03:00
    To: dewrite@msu.edu
    Subject: Re: Division of Investigative Oversight / Re: USA.gov Inquiry [#318517]

    Dear Director Write,

    My case of scientific misconduct was superficially treated by previous consideration (see below). That it why I am still expecting for in-depth investigation of this matter, taking into account my detailed analysis of the sense, not the formal (machine) version only.

    Regards,
    Rostyslav

    On May 10, 2013, at 5:19 PM, Dahlberg, John E (HHS/OASH) wrote:
    Dear Dr. Sklyar,
     
    I am at a loss as to how to respond.  Your own message below points out that the Office of Research Integrity has already informed you that we have been unable to confirm your original allegations of plagiarism.  I see no reason to revisit this matter.
     
    Sincerely,
     
    John Dahlberg, Ph.D.
    Deputy Director
    Office of Research Integrity
    240-453-8800
    john.dahlberg@hhs.gov
    ORI Web Site: http://ori.hhs.gov/
     
    From: Rostyslav SKLYAR, Dr. (Eng) [mailto:sklyar@tsp.lviv.ua]
    Sent: Thursday, May 09, 2013 6:59 AM
    To: OS OPHS askORI (HHS/OPHS)
    Subject: Division of Investigative Oversight / Re: USA.gov Inquiry [#318517]
     
    Please find my complaint below.
     
    On May 8, 2013, at 11:54 PM, USA.gov wrote:
     
    [FGE8000][FGE999]
    Hello. Thank you for contacting USA.gov.

I’m sorry to hear about the issues with our reseach.
    Please contact the Office of Research Intergrity (ORI) to find out if your case is eligible for an appeal. In some situations, policy may pemit an appeal. You can find contact information through the following link.
    http://ori.dhhs.gov/contact-us

For more help, talk with us live. Start a web chat or call us at 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636). We’re available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time, M-F. This e-mail address cannot accept replies.

Sincerely,
A member of the USA.gov response team


    –Original Message–
    
Having appealed with my analysis of the article “Macroporous nanowire nanoelectronic scaffolds for synthetic tissues”, DOI: 10.1038/NMAT3404 which was copied in high degree from my paper “A CNTFET-based nanowired induction two-way transducers”, DOI:10.5402/2012/102783, also its references (see more at http://issuu.com/r_sklyar/docs/harvard_mit?mode=window&viewMode=singlePage ), I discovered that neither Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nor Office of Research Integrity do not take this case of scientific misconduct seriously. Because Vice President for Research Maria T. Zuber has superficially “concluded that the Nature Materials paper does not copy any of my work” (her letter dated May, 3) and John Dahlberg, Director, Division of Investigative Oversight – “Because our analysis with iThenticate was unable to confirm your allegation of plagiarism” (DIO 4932, letter dated Sept. 13).


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