It’s poll time: Should a retraction during graduate school mean losing your PhD?

photo by secretlondon123 via flickr

A few weeks ago, we reported on the case of Emily Horvath, a promising scientist at Indiana University who admitted to falsifying data to make her results look better. Some of that data went into her PhD thesis. That prompted a Retraction Watch reader to ask whether scientists who commit such fraud should be stripped of their PhDs. We figured that was a good poll question, so let us know what you think.

[polldaddy poll=”4062997″]

4 thoughts on “It’s poll time: Should a retraction during graduate school mean losing your PhD?”

  1. I didn’t vote in this poll. Both retractions and doctoral theses are very complicated things, and I think you’d have to look at each situation more on a case by case basis.

    The strongest case for losing a doctorate would be for retraction due to fraud – but truly, the misconduct should be the reason for losing the Ph.D., not the retraction.

  2. The committee that I served on found ample evidence of misconduct by Hendrik Schön after he moved to Bell Labs. Nonetheless, I was troubled by the later proposal to retroactively revoke his degree on that basis (not yet resolved). But if someone has committed misconduct in their thesis work, I have no problem with the idea of taking away the degree.

  3. Yes and No.

    With the question as it’s worded — essentially, “should we sack people for misconduct?” — yes.

    But if you subtly change the question to “should we be changing the rules to make harsher punishments for fiddling data?” then no. We should be trying to eradicate the disease, not treat the symptoms. We should be changing the rules — the incentives in science — so that people aren’t so desperate that they feel the need to fiddle data.

  4. As far as I’m concerned, if you commit out-and-out fraud, such as manipulation of figures, or invention of non-existent data, you should no longer be working in science.

    Whether this means you lose your PhD is up to the institution but I would say yes.

    I think we need to make a clear distinction between scientific fraud – in which your data is manipulated – and other forms of scientific misconduct like plagiarism.

    If you’ve plagiarized other people’s writing but your data is OK, that shouldn’t be a “hanging offence”, if only because data manipulation should be one, and there has to be a difference.

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