Paul Muchowski, sanctioned last month by the ORI for falsely reporting results, offers an apology
Late 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 In fact, the grant that was at issue was not withdrawn and I am still receiving funding from that grant.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.
Paul J. Muchowski