A graduate student at the University of Oregon in Eugene has admitted to faking data that appeared in four published papers in the field of visual working memory, according to the Office of Research Integrity.
Anderson told Retraction Watch that the misconduct stemmed from “an error in judgment”:
I made an error in judgment during the processing and dissemination of research materials collected as a graduate student in Dr. Edward Awh’s lab at the University of Oregon. I take full responsibility for my actions, as they do not reflect the integrity of research conducted in the lab of Dr. Edward Awh or by the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon. I offer my sincerest apologies to Dr. Edward Awh, the University of Oregon, and to the field and its constituents for undermining the integrity of the scientific method and eroding the trust upon which it is built.
Although Anderson appears to still be a graduate student at the university, he could not confirm that to us:
At this time, I am unable to confirm my status as a graduate student at UOE.
Awh told Retraction Watch that he alerted the university to potential problems, and has already requested retractions of the affected papers:
Although you can obtain additional information about the process and outcome from Mr. Anderson and the University of Oregon, I can confirm that I alerted the University of Oregon about the need to conduct an inquiry within hours of learning about potential problems with the research from Mr. Anderson himself. I also cooperated fully in the institutional investigation and honored confidentiality requests during the internal process and pending the ORI announcement. Earlier today, I requested retractions of four papers identified in today’s announcement. None of the other authors of the papers at issue were in any way implicated in the research misconduct, and all agreed to the retractions (including Mr. Anderson).
Here are the papers that contain faked data, according to the ORI:
- “Precision in visual working memory reaches a stable plateau when individual item limits are exceeded,” Journal of Neuroscience (paper 1; cited 88 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge)
- “Selection and storage of perceptual groups is constrained by a discrete resource in working memory,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (paper 2, cited 12 times)
- “The plateau in mnemonic resolution across large set sizes indicates discrete resource limits in visual working memory,” Attention, Perception & Psychophysics (paper 3, cited 20 times)
- “A common discrete resource for visual working memory and visual search,” Psychological Science (paper 4, cited 27 times).
Here are more details about what’s affected, according to the ORI:
ORI found that Respondent knowingly falsified data by removing outlier values or replacing outliers with mean values to produce results that conform to predictions. Specifically, these falsifications appear in:
Figures 4 and 8 in Paper 1
Figures 3C, 3D, and 3E in Paper 2
Figures 3B, 7C, 7D, and 8B in Paper 3
Figures 3E and 3F in Paper 4
According to PubMed, Anderson and Awh published five additional papers together.
Anderson has agreed to research supervision for three years, starting June 23, and to help retract or correct the four papers affected by the misconduct.
Awh forwarded to us a statement from Susan Levine, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity today announced that David E. Anderson, a graduate student of the University of Oregon, engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data in four papers. As noted in the announcement (https://ori.hhs.gov/content/
case-summary-anderson-david-0) , Mr. Anderson entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement with HHS and The University of Oregon. Mr. Anderson was a graduate student who worked with University of Chicago Psychology Professor Ed Awh while Dr. Awh was at the University of Oregon. I understand from Dr. Awh that he had alerted the University of Oregon about the need to conduct an inquiry within hours of learning about potential problems with the research from Mr. Anderson himself. I also understand that Dr. Awh cooperated fully in the institutional investigation and honored confidentiality requests during the internal process and pending the ORI announcement. Dr. Awh has requested retractions of four papers identified in today’s announcement. None of the other authors of the papers at issue were in any way implicated in the research misconduct.
Ed is not only a leading researcher in cognitive neuroscience, but also a champion of scientific integrity. We are excited to have him join us at the University of Chicago.
We reached out to the University of Oregon, as well as the journals that contain the faked data to find out their plans to retract or correct the literature.
A spokesperson for the Association for Psychological Science, which publishes Psychological Science, told us:
APS doesn’t have a comment at this time – as per the fourth condition stated in the settlement, the journal editors will work with the author and the University of Oregon, Eugene to make any decisions about retracting or correcting the paper as needed.
We heard from Michael Dodd, editor in chief of Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics:
I have forwarded on the retraction request to the folks at Springer to determine the policy/procedure (I’ve been the Editor since January and this is the first such request I have received so I don’t know what the standard procedure is for this relative to an erratum). I can tell you that we will honor the request for retraction as soon as possible. We take these matters very seriously and will do our due diligence in addressing this as quickly as we can.
We also heard from a spokesperson at the American Psychological Association, which publishes the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance:
We have just learned of this notice from ORI. APA Journals will read the report and take appropriate action in due course.
Update 7/27/15 5:34 p.m. eastern: A spokesperson for the University of Oregon emailed us a statement from Brad Shelton, interim vice president for research and innovation:
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Research Integrity today announced that David E. Anderson, a graduate student of the University of Oregon, engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data in four papers. As noted in the announcement (https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-anderson-david-0), Mr. Anderson entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement with HHS and The University of Oregon.
The University of Oregon is committed to supporting a research community that operates with the highest level of integrity. Professional misconduct is unacceptable in all forms. As part of our commitment to integrity and academic honesty, we take all accusations of research misconduct seriously and, when appropriate, investigate accordingly. In the case of this isolated incident, our office of Research Compliance Services responded appropriately and in accordance with our policy on research misconduct (http://policies.uoregon.edu/policy/by/1/09-research/research-misconduct-allegations). Our actions have been validated by the decision of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and we accept the resolution of the voluntary settlement agreement. This incident highlights the effectiveness of our internal review and resolution procedures. Our faculty and administrators are resolved in their goal of maintaining our high standards of research integrity through vigorous review and continued enhancements to our policies, procedures and training.
The spokesperson also could not confirm whether Anderson is still a student at UOE:
I am not able to confirm whether David E. Anderson is an active student due to [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] protections.
Update 7/27/15 6:02 p.m. eastern: Anderson and Awh have already retracted a paper earlier this year — another one in the Journal of Neuroscience due to “an error in the analytic code.” When asked about this, Awh confirmed this earlier retraction was unrelated to the misconduct announced today:
Although Anderson was also first author of the paper retracted earlier this year, the reason for the earlier retraction was as stated (a coding error) rather than because of research misconduct.
Hat tip for update: Elizabeth Clark Polner
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