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Perspective: Research Misconduct The Search for a Remedy

Kornfeld, Donald S. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318257ee6a
Research Misconduct

Research misconduct—fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism—is an insidious problem in the scientific community today with the capacity to harm science, scientists, and the public. Federal agencies require that research trainees complete a course designed to deter such behavior, but the author could find no evidence to suggest that this effort has been effective. In fact, research shows that most cases of misconduct continue to go unreported.

The author conducted a detailed examination of 146 individual Office of Research Integrity reports from 1992 to 2003 and determined that these acts of misconduct were the results of individual psychological traits and the circumstances in which the researchers found themselves. Therefore, a course in research misconduct, such as is now federally mandated, should not be expected to have a significant effect. However, a course developed specifically for support staff, who currently do not receive such training, might prove effective.

Improving the quality of mentoring is essential to meaningfully deal with this issue. Therefore, the quality of mentorship should be a factor in the evaluation of training grants for funding. In addition, mentors should share responsibility for their trainees’ published work. The whistleblower can also play a significant role in this effort. However, the potential whistleblower is deterred by a realistic fear of retaliation. Therefore, institutions must establish policies that acknowledge the whistleblower’s contribution to the integrity of science and provide truly effective protection from retaliation. An increase in whistleblowing activity would provide greater, earlier exposure of misconduct and serve as a deterrent.

Dr. Kornfeld is professor emeritus, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Kornfeld, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Psychiatry, 622 West 168th St., Box 427, New York, NY 10032; e-mail:

© 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges