Reporting on Science Misconduct

I usually prefer to read the BBC for science news (and all other news for that matter) because I find their reporting, especially only US Politics, to be fairly balanced in the grand scheme of journalism. But,  as a NJ/NY native, I can’t help but check out the New York Times everyday. That is where I found this article on a case of alleged misconduct at Harvard that is still under investigation, but may have a trickle-down affect to various fields that the PI worked in, and students that he worked with.

I always found it very interesting that when we ran stories at BioTechniques about cases of scientific misconduct, they caused a huge jump in hits to the website. People love gossip, and they especially love hearing drama about their colleagues. I guess its an old journalism standard that juicy stories usually win big, even in a field that can be dry (when not done right!) like science writing. Stories about misconduct feel a little cheap to me, almost like they belong in the Star magazine of the biological research community. But, then again misconduct is a huge issue that does need to be reported on.

Integrity in any field is important, but for researchers, the “publish or perish” adage adds to the pressure to get results no matter what the cost. Conducting research requires a lot of overhead, in addition to the time and energy of students, post docs, and technicians. When a PI choses to alter their data to get more favorable results it does have a huge affect on the other members of their lab, and can tarnish their careers even if they were unaware of the misconduct. Hopefully that case at Harvard won’t derail too many promising careers.