In sharp resignation letter, former ORI director Wright criticizes bureaucracy, dysfunction

David Wright, via ORI
David Wright, via ORI

Last week, we reported that David Wright had resigned as director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI). At the time, we noted we were short on details, but  Science has obtained Wright’s resignation letter, which sheds a great deal of light on the move.

In his letter, according to Science, Wright wrote that:

…working with ORI’s “remarkable scientist-investigators” was “the best job I’ve ever had.” But that was only 35% of his job; the rest of the time he spent “navigating the remarkably dysfunctional HHS bureaucracy” to run ORI. Tasks that took a couple of days as a university administrator required weeks or months, he says. He writes that ORI’s budget was micromanaged by more senior officials, and that Koh’s office had a “seriously flawed” culture, calling it “secretive, autocratic and unaccountable.” For example, he told Wanda Jones, Koh’s deputy, that he urgently needed to appoint a director for ORI’s division of education. Jones told him the position was somewhere on a secret priority list of appointments. The position has not been filled 16 months later, David Wright notes.

[The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health] itself suffers from the tendency of bureaucracies to “focus … on perpetuating themselves,” David Wright writes. Officials spent “exorbitant amounts of time” in meetings and generating data and reports to make their divisions look productive, he writes. He asks whether OASH is the proper home for a regulatory office such as ORI, noting that Koh himself has described his office as an “intensely political environment.”

Read the whole letter at Science.

22 thoughts on “In sharp resignation letter, former ORI director Wright criticizes bureaucracy, dysfunction”

  1. As a past ORI investigation requester I learned more than I wanted to know: PHS research is run by universities seeking to get grants for their faculty members. When there is wrongdoing they all stonewall
    and whitewash to keep the funds flowing because universities “self investigate” allegations. ORI “oversight”
    is a joke because they only see what the university wants. ORI has no subpoena power and no real investigative power. The taxpayer pays for all this grants gaming.

    1. Come on, Ed. ORI oversight has been strong since we began ORI in 1992, including my first case as an ORI investigation (Abbs at University of Wisconsin, which had done an inadequate departmental inquiry, interviewing only the respondent, and not closely examining the research records — which we did in depth, over a six year period, while Abbs and the University sued ORI and HHS in federal court to stop our investigation and resisted requests for docmentation — see my 2013 paper on ORI history in Accountability in Research 20, 291:

      During my 17 years as an ORI senior official to 2006, and the next 8 years tracking ORI cases as a private consultant, I have never known ORI scientists to fail to examine in depth the possible ORI jurisdiction (NIH fnding and research misconduct definition) and available evidence of possible misconduct, often requiring university officials to provide all the case documentation to ORI and answer ORI oversight questions about it and the decisions made, even requiring institutions to reopen investigations, examine new evidence that ORI has obtained or issues ORI discovered as unresolved in the university documentation.

      Universities really cannot “stonewall” ORI, since the HHS regulations require their cooperation with ORI, by providing all documentation and information requested by ORI, including further investigation by them or ORI scientists. Whistleblowers who feel “stonewalled” can provide their allegations and evidence directly to ORI, which can demand an institutional inquiry or investigation. If a university ever really attempted to “stonewall” ORI, the ORI has the regulatory authority through HHS to prevent the whole institution from getting any NIH or other HHS research funds for any project. Since 1989, that “threat” has been sufficient to ensure sufficient cooperation from institutions, whose officials have dramatically improved in the past 20 years, often asking ORI for advice or assistance, in conducting full and solid investigations.

      ORI’s administrative actions, particularly debarring many of the senior respondent from applying for or receiving any federal grants for a period (up to lifetime for some), has saved the U.S. taxpayers money from those who committed serious research misconduct, leaving it available for NIH to grant to deserving persons.

      1. So, given your extensive experience with ORI, what is your opinion of Mr. Wright’s letter and resignation? What do you see as the major problems? I would appreciate hearing the opinions of someone who has been part of the system.

      2. Mr Price, “cooperation” does not equal subpoena. I supplied John Dahlberg with documents from
        a legal subpoena and he blew off a strong case of falsification and destroyed my file. Please ask him about this and feel free to post his answer. To refresh his memory is was about the hippro study published in JAMA.

        If his excuse resembles what he told me I doubt you could post it.—-Its an assault on the record of scientific publication.

        Further your position that the loss of FWA scares institutions is correct, but your conclusion is not correct:
        it scares them into stonewalling and coverup!

  2. Wow! Both shocking and utterly saddening at the same time. This is not going to be good once Sen. Chuck Grassley piles on (which he will inevitably do).

    My favorite quote from the letter is, “Dave, you are a visionary leader but what we need here are team players.” Translation: don’t be too good because it makes the rest of us look bad.

    I’m also very much looking forward to the following… “I intend to publish a version of the daily log I’ve kept as ORI Director in order to share my experience and observations.” That’s going to make for some interesting reading.

  3. When government or bureaucracy is a “trade” just like carpentry or computer science civilization is finished.

  4. I don’t know why he goes on about ” tendency of bureaucracies to “focus … on perpetuating themselves””.

    The one thing a government bureaucracy cannot do is perpetuate themselves. Congress (Sen. Grassley might want to perk up here) and the President can expand, modify, or eliminate any office, without restraint, and they do so every year with the budget process.

    The size and function of the civil service is the result of congressional legislation, not bureaucratic empire-building. The bureaucrats (whom everyone hates, but cannot identify) do not get a seat at the table when the budget is drafted and negotiated.

    For example, after 9-11 the Department of Homeland Security was established despite the fact that it was intended to duplicate the function of the DoD (i.e provide security for the homeland). This act was undertaken by the then-current administration and the leadership in the House and Senate.

    If there is a nefarious cabal undermining our society it is the lobbyists who seek to control the politicians and political parties. It seems to me that the main problem Wright faced was that he was not willing to work that level where ‘politics’ is the main motivator.

    1. “Who says organization, says oligarchy.” It’s called the iron law for a reason… in an environment with friction, nothing can stay in motion unless pushed by an outside force; however, I believe what Dr. Wright is referring to is that the primary goal of organizations inevitably becomes their continued existence. While that might wholly depend on other folks, he points out that rather than actually doing their job, they spend most of their time justifying their existence.

      1. Alan Price fails to actually respond adequately to anybody’s criticisms, for example to Wang’s allegation that ORI destroyed a legitimate researcher’s career here (, although he does actually respond. His constant defense, always diplomatic, and always polite, even when the Director has resigned, calling the system “secretive, autocratic and unaccountable”, is very odd to me. When there is a power vacuum for 16 months, surely this says something, doesn‘t it? QAQ says it best “they spend most of their time justifying their existence”. As a non-US citizen, when I read about how poverty has expanded in the USA (, the great land that was once heralded by Bruce Springsteen through music, and whose song (Born in the USA) was (and still is) sung around the world – including by me – with great pleasure and passion, it gives me great pain to see US tax-payer’s dollars being wasted on technocratic institutions that don’t have any real legal power, just the power of persuasion. That is why I am satisfied to read Dr. Wright’s resignation letter today. It gives more credence to what I have been saying for a few years now. And, as I say, I am not even a US citizen. This also brings into question the need by ORI to have paid money to Miguel Roig for a project that was meant to discover what was “plagiarism”. Surely someone who does something as a passion does not require funding to complete the research, does it? I have recently been more critical of Roig here (, and should add that I still have not received Roig’s 37 papers. I get a lot of thumbs down about these public criticisms, but a blog is a public forum for criticisms and discussion, and given the high-level profile that Roig has in the “ethics” literature, given his direct and close links to ORI, and given the fact that his CV has basically only focused on plagiarism and self-plagiarism in the past 20 years, and not on any other topic in classic or applied psychology, would my public request for his 37 papers be unreasonable, illogical or unfair?

        1. “Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary” That such a title exists says something about the bureaucracy…

        2. Thank you for these comments; it would be a great personal loss to me if you stopped grandstanding about Roig on distantly related threads and used the time thereby saved to visit a library.

          Incidentally, even a distant reading of the lyrics reveals that “Born in the USA” is deeply ironic as a patriotic anthem.

          1. Tim, thank you for once again reminding me that Prof. Roig has still failed to provide the 37 requested papers for careful scrutiny, even almost a week after my official request. What Roig fails to understand is that on MOnday morning, I will be sending an official complaint to his University that he is not fulfilling his basic academic responsibilities in making his literature publically available for public analysis. Academic who think that they can just publish but not be open to scrutiny, are living on the dark side of the moon.

            Trust me, local Japanese libraries stock very little by the way of (American) psychological literature, or even Bruce Springsteen collections, so, unlike what you believe, nowadays, unlike 20 years ago, going to a library is a total waste of time, except to pick up chldren’s books, which have, relative to 20 years ago, improved. It is much more valuable, in a bid to understand retractions, to spend that hour or two commenting on RW. I believe it is always nice to support facts with at least a few links or references. You should not assume that the RW readership is all from the USA, so I have taken the liberty of providing a few links about the patrioctic vs unpatriotic nature of Bruce’s lyrics. However, I think it is Bruce’s own words that say it best, not the interpreting masses: “In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part is in the choruses. The blues, and your daily realities are in the details of the verses. The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from Gospel music and the church.”

            In fact, I would say that there is still meaning today and perhaps even a hidden message for ORI in the first two verses:
            “You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
            Till you spend half your life just covering up
            Born in the U.S.A.”

            Let’s hope that someone who considers Bruce Springsteen and his music to be somehow unpatriotic would try to request him to retract his lyrics one day. But this reality is not such a crazy idea, considering how ridiculous the state of “retractions” has in fact reached in the USA:

            In concluding, I am not using my time on this blog to please you, Roig or ORI. I am here to critically assess the factors that affecting my world as a scientist. And right now, one very central figure in retractions is Prof. Miguel Roig because of his definitions of “plagiarism” and “self-plagiarism”, which are widely used and interpreted as being the “industry standard”. So, perhaps it is not I who needs to spend some time in the local library. Have you, for exmaple, read all of Roig’s papers? If so, then please feel free to forward them to me.

          2. Erratum: Let’s hope that someone who considers Bruce Springsteen and his music to be somehow unpatriotic would NOT try to request him to retract his lyrics one day.

          3. I think St John’s will rightfully point out that most of Roig’s publications are in established journals, and that Roig thus has performed his basic academic duties in terms of making his publications publically available.

            Roig will also be able to add that several of his publications are even available without the need of going to a library or asking a library. For example, “European Science Editing” is freely available on the Internet (that’s three of his publications covered), and he offers direct links of several of his papers on his publication list (another seven of his publications covered). So, we already have ten publications you can easily find without ever having to go to a library.

            Then there are his two publications in Science and Nature. Surely Japanese libraries carry those?! That’s a little extra work, but we’re already up to 12 that you should have no problem finding.

            And then there’s an issue with his older papers (in particular those from the 1980s), since it is very well possible that he himself does not have those papers in electronic format to send to you.

            In other words, feel free to send them a complaint, I’m sure they could use a good laugh on a Monday. You will likely get a very nice letter, on which someone wasted an hour or so, which will tell you more or less the same as what I said in the first line.

          4. So, judging by your mathematics, access to 12/37 is an acceptable number to assess the literature thoroughly? This is what is termed an “incomplete” analysis. I am now retired and I certainly do not have funding to pay for behind-paywall papers. But I do have an invested interest to Roig’s literature for reasons I have already explained quite carefully. If St. John’s University finds my concerns about Roig’s failure to provide literature humorous, well, then that might say something more about St. John’s University than it does about me. My request is valid, and so will be my complaint. Old papers can be scanned, and send as jpg files. And existent papers, if Prof. Roig is in fact organized, can be dragged and dropped into a folder, zipped and sent off to me, all in a few minutes. Or, if he is a publically funded researcher, as are many US scientists, then he is not bound by copyrights, so he could easily place maybe all, or most, of his papers up, as a PDF file, without raising copyright issues. An academic request is an academic request, nothing less.

          5. Your mathematics are actually invalid, since not all his papers are about plagiarism (in fact, most are not), and as I found with just a brief search, more than half that are are freely accessible. Add those in quite widespread journals and you can easily assess almost all his relevant papers on plagiarism without having to bother Roig for one second.

            Yes, Roig could send you his papers, but there is no rule in science, neither moral or legal, that tells him to do so. There is, however, in my part of the world a moral rule that someone first puts in an effort him/herself, and then focuses any requests on those papers they believe are relevant but cannot access.

        3. Well. JamieATdS, the first comment seems unrelated to the topic of this page — but as ORI published ih the Federal Register in 2012,
          “Based on the report of an investigation conducted by Harvard University (Harvard) and additional
          analysis conducted by ORI . . . Respondent published fabricated data in Figure 2 of the paper Hauser, M.D., Weiss, D., & Marcus, G. “Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins.” Cognition 86:B15-B22, 2002 . . . In two unpublished experiments . . . Respondent falsified the coding of some of the monkeys’ responses, making the results statistically significant when the results coded by others showed them to be non-significant. Respondent acknowledged to his collaborators that he miscoded some of the trials and that the study failed to provide support for the initial hypothesis. . . In versions of a manuscript entitled “Grammatical Pattern Learning by Human Infants and Monkeys” submitted to Cognition, Science, and Nature, Respondent falsely described the methodology used to code the results . . . Respondent engaged in research misconduct by providing inconsistent coding of data in his unpublished playback experiment with rhesus monkeys exploring an abstract pattern in the form of AXA by falsely changing the coding results. .. . Respondent neither admits nor denies committing research misconduct but accepts ORI has found evidence of research misconduct as set forth above and has . . . voluntarily agreed for a period of three (3) years” [to have his NIH-related research subjected to supervision and certification by his institution — the whole finding, including the notices of correction of the literature, is much too long to copy here]. He was not debarred from applying for or receiving federal grants for research; thus, this ORI administrative action was much less severe than the 3 to 10 years (or lifetime) debarment imposed on many other professors.

        4. JATdS, you appear to misrepresent the context what you call “[my] constant defense, always diplomatic, and always polite, even when the Director has resigned, calling the system “secretive, autocratic and unaccountable.” Dr. Wright never labeled ORI with such words — he obviously was referring to his current views about the HHS officers to whom the ORI office reports.

          It is also totally irrelevant to your “call into question the need by ORI to have paid money to Miguel Roig for a project that was meant to discover what was ‘plagiarism’ ” — Dr. Roig is a worldwide respected expert in academic plagiarism who has made efforts to educate students and professors about avoiding such possible misconduct; he was awarded peer-reviewed funding a decade ago ( to develop educational materials on plagiarism to share with the academic community.

          If you have access to a university library or the publisher’s websites, you should be able to obtain his publications for your private use, and his St. Johns University faculty website gives Internet links to many.

  5. Let the truth set us free. And may he not mysteriously disappear, or be “discredited” as so may other whistleblowers. Let the accountability begin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.