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The consequences of scientific misconduct

An article published last week by The Scientist looks at the short- and long-term consequences of scientific misconduct on the careers of those who perpetrated it.

In Life After Fraud, three scientists give their versions of the facts that led the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to declare them guilty of scientific fraud. These scientists were barred from applying for federal funds for up to 5 years, and their names appeared in official documents together with details of their wrongdoings.

While guilty scientists have their names removed from official blacklists once they’ve paid their dues, remaining traces of their wrongdoings on the Internet keep haunting them long afterwards. All three scientists in the article managed to stay in science, but they had to deal with a tarnished reputation, which sometimes led employers to withdraw job offers after doing a Google search.

In an accompanying editorial, The Scientist’s editor and publisher Richard Gallagher finds that “the current ORI procedure for the investigation of fraud seems fair. And the range of penalties for the guilty look, if anything, too lenient.” But Gallagher argues that scientists found guilty of scientific misconduct suffer harsher penalties than intended. “A debarment from receiving federal funds for 3 years can effectively turn into a life sentence for researchers, permanently shutting down opportunities and eliminating career advancement,” he writes. Gallagher makes a controversial call for a new system of dealing with fraud that also allows the rehabilitation of offenders.