Transparency begins …. with a T, as Ali G once said. That seems to be extent of the University of Liverpool’s commitment to openness, at least in the handling of an ongoing misconduct investigation at the UK institution.
We know this much: The school in late 2017 launched an inquiry into one of its scientists — apparently someone involved in liver research. The investigators concluded that the employee, who has since left the institution, had indeed committed research misconduct, according to a statement from the university.
The problem is, that’s all we know at this point. The university is refusing to name the researcher, identify any affected papers or shed any other light on the matter. The only salient facts in the statement are that the work involves:
research relating to biomarkers of liver damage and the potential this research had to inform mechanisms, diagnosis and prognosis of various disease states.
Sabina Frediani, a spokeswoman for school, told us:
We have not named the individual concerned because the comprehensive review is still in process but we have ensured that research collaborators have been informed.
Now, we might give the school a pass if it simply said it had an ongoing investigation about which it couldn’t comment. But the University of Liverpool opted to go public with the case — in the least satisfying of ways.
The statement is a masterstroke of barely relevant information masquerading as key detail, while ignoring the most important items: namely, the name itself. Knowing that an anonymized researcher possibly working hepatology — but possibly not — is of zero use to anyone else in that field or any other area.
So what, exactly, are scientists, or the public, supposed to do with this revelation?
Evidently the implications of the misconduct may be sweeping. According to the university statement:
Due to the range of activities connected with this research, the University has launched a comprehensive review and taken a number of actions including: An ongoing review of all publications and research activity undertaken by the individual concerned during his time at the University. In some cases this is expected to lead to further action including the retraction of published academic research.
The statement quotes Louise Kenny, the pro-vice-chancellor for health and life sciences, saying:
The integrity of academic research is of the highest importance to the University of Liverpool, which is recognised for delivering world-leading research in many different fields … Any potential impact on patient safety is our primary concern. However we are confident, in relation to the research activity investigated thus far, that patient safety has not been compromised.
Kenny adds that:
no current and no other former employees or collaborators have been implicated as a result of the investigation.
Ironically, by refusing to identify the scientist behind the mess, the school has succeeded in casting unearned suspicion over many others.
Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up for an email every time there’s a new post (look for the “follow” button at the lower right part of your screen), or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at email@example.com.