House arrest for researcher found guilty of scientific misconduct

                                                              Photo / Donna Coveney

Allegations of data falsification started 7 years ago ended up a few months ago not very well for Luk van Parijs, a former MIT researcher. He was by found guilty of data manipulation and sentenced to 6-month house arrest, community service and financial restitution.

It is a sad story to hear, when you think the career of a highly trained person, who attend top institutions (Luk van Parijs was a graduate student at the Harvard Medical School and a post-doc at Caltech) went to waste for scientific misconduct.

Back in February, criminal charges were filed against van Parijs and prosecutors asked to 6-month jail to “discourage other researchers from engaging in similar behavior”. But a less harsh sentence was issued probably because van Parijs confessed misconduct and agreed to cooperate and also because several prominent scientists pleaded clemency. Among then, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who had been van Parijs’s supervisor at Caltech, who was also involved in a case of research misconduct himself some years ago. Do I see a pattern here?

It makes me wonder what leads highly educated and smart people to misbehave scientifically. Of course, there is lots of pressure to get the dwindling grant money to keep doing research, paying the salaries of the lab staff, graduate students and post-doc. And this money needs to be turned into publication. But fail to keep integrity and risk everything is not a good alternative, at least in my point of view.

Maybe these science superstars (as Neal Stewart calls them in his book Research Ethics for Scientists) feel they are above the rules and their self proclaimed demigod status allow them to cheat for the good of science. Perhaps they start with a minor falsification they think they will never been caught and things escalate. Or they become addicted to publish in very prestigious journals, as Stewart suggests. Who knows?

The fact is that research misconduct cost money, lots of it. And it affects negatively the life of many people. People involved in the fraudulent research usually get hurt directly in a way or another. How about those who tried to repeat the fake data? And those who cited the fabricated results? One of van Parijs’s paper had more than 200 citations!

Fraudulent science is bad for the research community, is bad for the taxpayers who are footing the bills and it is bad for science itself because it undermines the pillars science is built.

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