Scientific misconduct is a crime!
Included with the list of program announcements and RFAs which I get from the NIH each week was a startling result of the investigation of scientific misconduct by Luk van Parijs by US Public Health Service. Writedit covered the case in his blog, and so did Dr. Free-Ride a few years ago when he had been fired from MIT based on their internal investigation. However, what puzzles me most is that he has not been taken to court! Yes, you heard me right – the guy’s ass should be in jail.
After all how is scientific misconduct different from stealing???? The guy fabricates data, publishes it in an awesome journal, gets all the fame and glory of a great researcher. Then he lands a position at MIT, gets grant money from NIH, gets paid to travel to give talks abroad, and lives a pretty comfy life off of the taxpayers’ money. All this while other people waste precious time and huge sums of NIH dollars trying to replicate his nonexistent results. Careers are wasted on futile pursuits because people believe in his BS published in Nature Genetics (cited over 200 times) or Journal of Immunology. Technically, therefore, he steals from everyone trying to replicate or follow up his results and lives comfortably off of the spoils. And all he gets is getting fired and banned from applying for public funding for 5 fucking years? C’mon, this is ridiculous. I would like to see a bill passed, which mandates jail time or very substantial fines for scientific misconduct. That would make scoundrels like van Parijs think twice about building their careers on the deception of their peers.
Another interesting aspect of van Parijs’ case is labs he was in as graduate student and postdoc. He did his PhD at Harvard in Abdul Abbas’ lab, and then his postdoc at David Baltimore’s lab at CalTech. Both of his advisors are super-bigshots in the field of immunology (Baltimore holds a Nobel Prize). Neither admits suspecting van Parijs of any misconduct and, admittedly, most of his really spectacular bullshit comes from his work as faculty at MIT, but… Maybe, just maybe, such super high-profile, super-competitive labs put too much stress on being productive and making hawt science at the expense of integrity. Maybe van Parijs never heard that all that counts is NOT publishing in Nature, but doing honest good science. Maybe the PIs in such labs are so out of touch with their lab members that they don’t even realize how much evil is brewing under their very noses, stirred up by the cut-throat competition of the top tiers of science. Baltimore, by the way, was involved in another very high-profile case of scientific misconduct in which for some time he fiercely defended the accused perpetrator. Doesn’t that send a message to his postdocs? I am afraid it does.
On a side note, Nature runs an interesting editorial in the latest issue on the utility of nationwide programs to evaluate scientific integrity. An interesting read, although we have yet to see such programs implemented and working. And put the motherfuckers in jail, I say!
Update: DrugMonkey has a great post on retractions/scientific misconduct and an excellent discussion follows. Go check it out!