Research integrity officials at Georgia State University say a psychology researcher did not commit misconduct in a controversial 2015 paper in JAMA Pediatrics which challenged the notion that most rapists on college campuses are repeat offenders.
GSU launched the inquiry after an outside researcher questioned the validity of data supplied to him by Kevin Swartout.
Brenda Chapman, associate VP for research integrity, told us in an e-mail that the investigation cleared Swartout of wrongdoing:
Georgia State University conducted an investigation into an allegation of research misconduct against Dr. Kevin Swartout. The investigation committee concluded that no research misconduct occurred.
We asked for a copy of the investigative report; GSU declined, citing confidentiality.
Swartout gave us this comment:
As you would guess – I fully concur with the investigation outcome. This has been a tough process for me and my family, so I do not have any additional comment at this time.
This paper has been the focus of much controversy since it was published. We covered some of the debate earlier this year, after researcher Jim Hopper — an outspoken critic of the paper — reported JAMA Pediatrics had rejected his letter to the editor because he’d already posted it on PubPeer. As we reported, after Hopper reviewed some of the initial data, he contacted GSU with his concerns:
When [independent consultant, Allison Tracy] and Hopper discovered flaws in the study, and received what they considered to be insufficient clarifications from the journal and the study’s authors, Hopper informed the research integrity staff at GSU, and was told that they were going to carry out an investigation into the case.
We contacted Hopper about GSU’s decision. He provided a link to their critique of the paper, and told us:
My goal has always been to stop Dr. Swartout and his co-authors from misleading policy makers with invalid science. That requires determining, and then letting others know, that the complex analyses and findings reported in the paper are not valid, so that the authors, or the journal, or someone with the authority — and the integrity — to do so will take the appropriate action to ensure that the paper is sufficiently corrected or retracted.
Because GSU, like the authors and the journal editors, has failed step up to the plate, I plan to pursue the other options available to achieve my goals for the good of science, public policy and victims of rape on campus, until I have exhausted those options.
Swartout and his colleagues corrected the paper in December 2015 to reflect errors which they maintain do not fatally cripple their conclusions:
In the Original Investigation titled “Trajectory Analysis of the Campus Serial Rapist Assumption,” published online July 13, 2015, in JAMA Pediatrics,1 there were inconsistencies in missing data between the data used for the published analyses and the publicly available derivation data, which affected 2 cases. After correcting for these errors, most of the frequencies and statistics reported in the Results section differ slightly. All interpretations and conclusions remain the same after correcting for these errors.2 A corrected article with corrections to the Abstract, text, Tables, and Figure has been published online.1 In addition, this article was previously corrected on August 13, 2015, to fix a column heading in Table 3.
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