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Case of the Prevaricating Postdoc

Category 2: Collecting & Managing Data


Post-doctoral researcher, Sissy, has been working hard for a year and a half in Professor Beaker’s lab and generating interesting, if not quite earth-shattering, results. A new graduate student, Glenda, is assigned a project that extends Sissy’s work.

Despite many attempts, neither Glenda nor anyone else in the lab can duplicate Sissy's results. After looking at Sissy’s lab notebooks, Professor Beaker concludes that her reported results are fraudulent.

The professor is dismayed and discusses the case with some of his colleagues. In general, their advice is to fire Sissy immediately without filing a formal fraud investigation. Beaker doesn’t like this solution, but the thought of the hours of time a formal investigation would take—and the potential embarrassment and cost to the university—are also unpalatable.

Stage 1

What action do you think WAS taken by Professor Beaker?

A. Fired Sissy immediately and retracted a submitted paper.

B. Asked Sissy to leave, in return for not filing formal Institutional complaints against her. Sissy was thus able to find a position elsewhere. Beaker resubmitted the paper after removing Sissy’s data.

C. Followed Institutional guidelines, and spent many hours dealing with the paperwork involved.

D. Fired Sissy immediately and told her not to list him as a reference. But he didn’t tell anyone else the circumstances of her leaving.

Stage 2

What action do you think SHOULD have been taken by the responsible parties?

A. Beaker should fire Sissy immediately.

B. Beaker should retract a paper he had submitted that includes Sissy's data.

C. Beaker should carefully remove some or all of Sissy's data from any planned publications but submit them anyway.

D. Beaker should file formal complaints with the institution about Sissy's behavior.

E. The institution should ask Sissy to leave on her own, in return for not filing formal ethics complaints against her.

F. A colleague of Beakers should be asked to accept the transfer of Glenda to her/his group

G. The department should be asked to follow institutional guidelines for charging Sissy with fraud.

H. Beaker should ask Sissy to leave quietly and not list him as a reference.

I. Beaker should submit the paper, since the general science is still valid even it Sissy's work is possible fraudulent.