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Research Misconduct: Catching the Desperados and Restraining the Zealots

by Charles Walter and Edward P. Richards, III, 13 IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine #1, pg. 142 (Feb/Mar 1994)



On November 13, 1993, two headlines appeared in the Houston Post in adjacent columns of page A-18:




The former headline was followed by an AP story about Robert Gallo. The story states that the government dropped research misconduct charges against Dr. Gallo on November 12, 1993 because it could not meet a new definition of scientific misconduct demanded by a review board[1].

The latter headline was followed by another AP story describing a study published on November 12, 1993 in the magazine published by the international research society, Sigma Xi. This story states that half of faculty members and 43 percent of graduate students at the largest universities in the U.S. said that they had direct knowledge of research misconduct in their laboratories.

Each of these articles reflects consequences of researchers' failure at self-governance (See Parts 4, 5 and 6 of our series on Scientific Misconduct in the September and December, 1992 and March, 1993 issues of EMBM). As often happens, the self-governance vacuum creates a flourishing environment for desperados eager to profit from their misconduct and for zealots--idealists or opportunists, depending on your point of view--to don their white hats, join with government and enact Draconian[2]measures. Unfortunately, the ensuing witchhunt usually catches more naive innocents than street-smart desperados. After the resulting crisis is in full bloom, lawyers are called in and paid to save the day, usually by demanding due process, in this case for individuals whose profession created the problem by squandering its own opportunity at self-governance.


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