No one likes to admit defeat, and most are not particularly excited to shout a mistake from the rooftops. Self-protection is human nature, but covering tracks in research can land you in some hot water. HHS defines “research misconduct” as ” fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, and does not include honest error or differences of opinion.” NIH has procedures in place to handle research misconduct claims, but ultimately no power to investigate (except in the case of intramural research). All research misconduct allegations involving NIH awards (or any agency under the umbrella of HHS) are forwarded to the HHS Office of Research Integrity (ORI) for their oversight. Just to be clear:
- Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
- Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
- Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
If a PI is found to have engaged in research misconduct, HHS can take action by means of debarment from eligibility to receive Federal funds for grants and contracts; prohibition from PHS service; certification of information sources by the respondent that is forwarded by the institution; certification of data by the institution; imposition of supervision; submission of a correction of published articles by the respondent; submission of a retraction of published articles; and more, including recalled funds and withdrawal of support for associated PIs.
WSU PIs are full of integrity and honor, but panic can blur a bright line. In your moments of most overwhelming, results-driven disappointment, make sure the object you cling to is a life raft and not an anchor. ORI sanction happens (and just recently did), and it can ruin a career.