On the shoulders of midgets:10 years of scientific fraud at University of Kentucky

Maybe the detection of fraud has improved lately but it is still highly unlikely that the majority of cases are being discovered. I have the clear perception that the increasing number of cases of manipulating or faking data that are being discovered is just the tip of the iceberg. These cases – as with the case described in my previous post about Diedrik Stapel – also demonstrate the systemic disinclination of peers to be critical or to find fault with their colleagues. Traditional peer review has always had its failings but  is now also proving to be incapable of handling the huge increase in the number of papers being published. And the apparently increasing incidence of fraud among scientists will not change until scientists can be held liable for their misconduct. Academic freedom is all very well but it needs to be tempered with some responsibility and some corresponding accountability.

In the long run – over a few centuries – it probably does not matter. Scientific cheating does not alter natural laws or relationships but in the short term of our lifetimes the damage is considerable. Not only does it waste resources but the the misdirection of other scientific efforts leads to much work being done on a foundation of quicksand. On the shoulders of midgets!

In this case where Eric Smart has been found to have been falsifying data for a decade, the Office of Research Integrity has published its findings and 10 papers are to be retracted and he will not seek grants for 7 years. 13 researchers at his lab “have moved on to other projects and endeavors.” The papers to be withdrawn have been cited over 100 times.

Notice is hereby given that the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has taken final action in the following case: Eric J. Smart, Ph.D., University of Kentucky:

Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the University of Kentucky (UK) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Eric J. Smart, former Professor of Pediatrics and Physiology, Department of Pediatrics and Physiology, UK, engaged in research misconduct in research. …..

ORI found that the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in ten (10) published papers, one (1) submitted manuscript, seven (7) grant applications, and three (3) progress reports over a period of ten (10) years. Respondent reported experimental data for knockout mice that did not exist in five (5) grant applications and three (3) progressreports and also falsified and/or fabricated images in 45 figures included in the following: ……

Dr. Smart has entered into a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement and has voluntarily agreed for a period of seven (7) years, beginning on October 23, 2012:

(1) To exclude himself from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government referred to as “covered transactions” pursuant to HHS’ Implementation (2 CFR part 376 et seq.) of OMB Guidelines to Agencies on Govermentwide Debarment and Suspension, 2 CFR part 180 (collectively the “Debarment Regulations”);

(2) To exclude himself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant; and

(3) To request that the following publications be retracted or corrected: …..

The Scientist reports

…. A joint investigation carried out over the course of 2 years by the ORI and the UK found that Eric Smart, who studied the molecular mechanisms behind cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, had falsified or fabricated a total of 45 figures—mostly images of Western blots, a technique used to identify proteins—in seven grant applications, three progress reports, and 10 published papers, some of which were cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The notice says that Smart also reported experimental data from knockout mice that did not exist. Smart did his PhD at UK and was awarded an endowed chair in 2003. …

… His research brought in $8 million in federal grants, according to the UK, mostly from National Institutes of Health agencies such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

….. As for the 13 researchers previously employed in Smart’s lab, William Thro, general counsel for UK, said they “have moved on to other projects and endeavors.” And, he noted, “to my knowledge there has been no request for the return of funds to the federal government and other agencies.”

Smart apparently had a reputation as a gifted teacher and  is now employed as a chemistry teacher at Bourbon County High School.

What a waste!

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One Response to “On the shoulders of midgets:10 years of scientific fraud at University of Kentucky”

  1. Erebus Priest Says:

    I’m in complete agreement. What a waste. But I do think that asking him to no longer continue to participate voluntarily is a mistake on the part of government officials.
    And I also think the government should be asking for its 8 million back.

    Nice article and blog BTW.

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