Data forgery is a frikkin troublesome issue in scientific research. It is the same story every time: “The damned post-doc fucked up the data! We are retracting the paper although so and so stands by his or her results.”
A lamentation recently appeared in a prominent science journal. A junior researcher in a scientist’s laboratory had fucked up some data that resulted in retraction of four papers and data from a few more paper are suspect. The writer was thankful that the prominent scientist’s image was not tarnished. Had it been, the author would have used spit to bring it to the original shine.
I mean come on, give me a break! Don’t we have enough of this bullshit? Every time it happens, and it is happening a lot nowadays, an obituary of the paper is published and apology is issued for any inconvenience to the research community. What about those other researchers who were genuinely working on a similar project and had contrary results? Their bosses were whipping their rear ends for being incompetent and not being able to produce similar results as the pioneers. They lost their credibility because some jerk happened to publish fake data.
And thank goodness the image of the senior scientist is not tarnished because it would be a bad press. (really? who cares?) The big guy brings a lot of money to the institution so that they can claim to have an internal investigation committee.
Don’t you think that the rot is a bit deeper? How the hell two measly post-doc get away with four high profile papers with grafted data? Were they constantly providing data to fit the pet theory of the boss? Was the jet-lagged senior scientist’s judgement obscured by the desire of giving a crushing blow to the competitor?
In politics, when someone screws up in a big way, the superior takes the responsibility of failure to oversee. In science, it is all about the lowly post-doc’s mess. The principal investigators, as they are called, drop the culprits like a hot potato. That is the easy way out.
Today, science has completely changed in its intensity, competition, and amount of money involved. It is no more a recluse hobbyist’s muse. With these changes have come the unwanted but expected problems. Data forgery is one of them. It is a big enough problem that the National Institute of Health, the largest scientific funding body in the world, has established an Office of Research Integrity that monitors these allegations.
Although there are many facets of this problem that involve the bench researcher, the institution, the scientific and technical journals and the research funding agency, still the senior scientists have to own their responsibility of directly or indirectly promoting data falsification and other scientific misconducts. It is a prick-ly issue and it sure requires some guts to deal with.