Reports of misconduct investigations can tell us a lot. Here are more than a dozen of them.

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Fakery. Ignored whistleblowers. Sabotage. Subterfuge.

Reading reports of institutional investigations into allegations of misconduct can sometimes feel like reading a spy novel about science. And we’ve read a lot of them.

In a recent post that drew from one such report, we wrote:

Whenever we learn about misconduct cases at public universities, we file such public records requests to obtain more information because we believe, as did Justice Louis Brandeis, that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

But just as retraction notices are often unhelpful and even misleading, suggesting a lack of transparency, reports of institutional investigations can leave a lot to be desired, and reveal flaws in the the process that lead to them. As we and C.K. Gunsalus noted recently in JAMA:

Depending on institutions to investigate their own faculty presents significant challenges. Misconduct reports, the mandated product of institutional investigations for which US federal dollars have been spent, have a wide range of problems. These include lack of standardization, inherent conflicts of interest that must be addressed to directly ensure credibility, little quality control or peer review, and limited oversight. Even when institutions act, the information they release to the public is often limited and unhelpful.

That’s why our JAMA Viewpoint included a peer review form for such reports, which Gunsalus filled out for a recently obtained document.

Over time, we have obtained more than a dozen of these reports — which can run into the hundreds of pages — by various means, including through public records requests, from reviewing court documents, and, in rare cases, when universities simply make them available. We are not always successful; some jurisdictions allow universities to keep such reports confidential. (We would be remiss if we failed to mention that such work takes resources, and that we could always use your help.) Here’s a list:

  1. Sylvia Asa and Shereen Ezzat, formerly of the University Health Network, University of Toronto
  2. Georgiy Aslanidi, formerly of the University of Florida
  3. Hengjun Chao, formerly of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York:
  4. Nasser Chegini, formerly of the University of Florida
  5. Ching-Shih Chen, formerly of the Ohio State University
  6. Azza El-Remessy, formerly of the University of Georgia
  7. Maria Fousteri, formerly of the University of Colorado Denver
  8. Almut Grenz, formerly of the University of Colorado Denver
  9. Mark Jackson, formerly of the Kansas State University
  10. Ishwarlal “Kenny” Jialal;, formerly of the University of California Davis
  11. Rajendra Kadam, formerly of the University of Colorado Denver
  12. Santosh Katiyar, formerly of the University of Alabama Birmingham and the Birmingham VA Medical Center
  13. Christian Kreipke, formerly of Wayne State University
  14. Prasenjit Mahato, formerly of the Kyushu University
  15. Ricky Malhotra and Karen D’Souza, formerly of the University of Michigan
  16. Frank Sauer, formerly of the University of California, Riverside
  17. Lei Yao, formerly of the University of Florida

These are not the only reports to have been made public, of course. Just last week, for example, Stephanie Lee of BuzzFeed published a report from The Ohio State University about the case of Steven Devor as part of a larger story about CrossFit. (We’ve also reported on this case.) We say, the more, the merrier.

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6 thoughts on “Reports of misconduct investigations can tell us a lot. Here are more than a dozen of them.”

  1. Missed a couple of very important misconduct investigations. Both provide clear windows into the political machinations of universities. The two reports involve overlapping casts of characters, investigating themselves. Once an outside investigator is allowed to do his work (Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI), the results are much, much different.

    Penn State U. misconduct investigation reports:

    1. Michael Mann research misconduct:
    http://www.psu.edu/ur/2014/fromlive/Final_Investigation_Report.pdf

    2. Freeh Report on misconduct of Penn State U.
    https://www.scribd.com/document/99901850/Freeh-Report-of-the-Actions-of-Penn-State-University

  2. One issue I don’t think you consider is that some (possibly very good) investigations find no evidence of misconduct. I certainly know of such cases where malicious accusations were made and refuted by entirely independent and careful investigation. I do not think that one can demand that such investigations are published since they could be seen as damaging to innocent parties (“no smoke without fire”). This is problematic, since we also know of less than careful examination, usually not truly independent, where no misconduct was found in a first investigation but demonstrated subsequently. I don’t know the answer.

    1. Fortunately, this is why large funding bodies such as NIH and NSF have actual oversight arms to review these cases. Even in instances where misconduct is not found, those agencies review the report and will remand the investigation back to the institution if they determine the process was inadequate. It is much better to be accountable to authority than the biases of any old crackpot who knows how to file a FOIA request.

  3. I agree that funding bodies for the relevant research should be informed and given full copies of reports into all investigations, but I still think that if there is a conclusion of malicious accusation and careful investigation finds no problem, that demanding that such investigations are made public could do more harm than good.

    1. Absolutely. If malicious researchers are making false accusations, and the institution has conducted an investigation that reached this conclusion, then we are all better served by having the report made public.

  4. “Fakery. Ignored whistleblowers. Sabotage. Subterfuge.”

    Well, you should look at things with a positive angle. At least the case selection (considering it is representative) shows that American science has become very diverse.

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