Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who Guards the Guardians?

  • Fraud and misconduct in research
  • Junk science in the courtroom
  • Fraud and misconduct in law enforcement

 From junk science and fraudulent laboratory results in courtrooms, to misconduct in scientific research, to fake experiments, and to plagiarism, the criminal science investigator ensures honesty within the halls of science and the halls of justice.  The Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services is the top of the CSI pyramid. 

Every research university has its own “institutional review board” to ensure that experiments conform to best practices.  Students at all levels in all disciplines are bound by an equivalent code of honor.
 In the picture above, it would be easy to assume that the woman to our right, in blue, is the Guardian.  But law enforcement often depends on the findings of scientists, technicians, and other professionals.  Who, then, is the guardian? 

  • Some remain beyond reproach after careful investigation.  That is what makes science work so well. 
  • Others are simple errors, easy to fix. 
This still leaves too many cases where scientific findings are falsified or falsely reported.  That includes those used by law enforcement and prosecution.

If you are interested in a career in forensic investigation, think beyond the "mass mediated hyper-reality" of TV drama.  The federal government, major research universities, and large corporations all employ scientific auditors.  Private practice is always an option. 

Even if you have no interest in criminal investigation, the same ethics of scientific research presented here apply to technology, business, trade, and commerce.
Within the scientific community, crimes are known.  As you will find below, it is an easy estimate that 20% of reports and findings are potentially suspect.  That seems like a large number, but it remains that 80% are not suspect.  Of those that are questionable, not all are the consequence of willful fraud, deception, or misconduct

Morality and Ethics

These are hard questions. 

Long ago, in a physics class, the professor got tired of answering homework questions.  Students would raise their hands and ask, "How do you do Number 6?"  .... "I couldn't get the answer in the back of the book for Number 7?"...  "What equation do you use for Number 3?" ...  Finally, he stopped.  He said that any of us would go out in the backyard and shoot hoops for 45 minutes, not make even one basket, and still claim to have had a good time.  "How long did you spend working the problem?" he asked.  "What methods - how many methods - did you try?"  So it is with morality and ethics.

In English, we use the words "morality" and "ethics" as synonyms.  In fact, they may mean very different things.  On my website, Washtenaw Justice, I propose that morality and ethics are different (link here). 

Morality defines objective requirements based on the real nature of the actor. Morality starts with you.  Morality is your path to survival.  Every choice - even for the girders on a bridge -  ultimately comes down to one question: right or wrong?

 Ethics is group behavior.  Different societies have different ethical rules, and often they cannot be proved to be morally superior to any other.  In some societies, the "bride price" is offered by the family of the groom.  In others, the bride's family offers a dowery.  In some "bride price" societies, morganatic rules allow the bride to keep her payment even if she quits the marriage.  In our society, we get presents on our birthdays.  In the world of J. R. R. Tolkein, hobbits give presents to others on their own birthdays.  There is no way to prove that one mode or manner is better than the other. 

If you were alone on an island you could make up your own ethics, but you would still need morality as a code of values against which to judge the choices that will keep you alive.

John Rawls (1921 – 2002) was the leading American philosopher of "social justice."  His key challenge was this: Design your ideal society.  Decide what institutions exist and how they are structured.  Decide who gets ahead and how.  ... No, you do not know in advance what your place in this world of yours will be.
Rawls is best known for A Theory of Justice, Belknap Press Harvard University, 1971.
Discussion by Dr. Jan Edward Garrett of Western Kentucky University here.
Discussion from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was the leading American philosopher of "ego-centric ethics."  Her non-fiction works include The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, and The Romantic Manifesto.  She also wrote several novels, three of which were made into movies.
As you will see below, almost every professional society has some code of ethics.  They often say the same things, sometimes in different words.  It is easy to make up general rules for everyone else to follow.  It can be harder to know how to apply those general principles to daily problems.  But the answers exist.  They are knowable.  But it takes more than a minute to figure it out. 

Professional Codes of Conduct

Every professional society has a Code of Ethics.  Sometimes, these are expressed within a Mission Statement or Vision Statement.  More often, they are stated explicitly in a separate document.  Sometimes, these are brief lists of broad commandments.  Usually, they run several pages.  The Ethics statement of the Association of American Geographers runs ten pages followed by four pages of citations and acknowledgements. 
Follow the links to read the Code of Ethics of these professional organizations.
 What do they have in common?  Why do they differ?  The American Physical Society publishes these Supplemental Guidelines for Coauthors and Collaborators.  It reads in part:
"All collaborators share some degree of responsibility for any paper they coauthor. Some coauthors have responsibility for the entire paper as an accurate, verifiable, report of the research. These include, for example, coauthors who are accountable for the integrity of the critical data reported in the paper, carry out the analysis, write the manuscript, present major findings at conferences, or provide scientific leadership for junior colleagues."
This obviously applies to all work, whether for life science, social science, business administration, or performing arts.

University Research

When you enter college, you have the opportunity to work as an assistant at many levels as you progress through your course of studies.  Whether you choose engineering, business administration, life sciences and medicine, or physical sciences, you will be held to the same general code of conduct.  All colleges and universities publish their codes of conduct.  These apply to the classroom, of course.  Cheating and plagiarism are never tolerated.  With research, the standards are higher, defined more completely, and applied more broadly. 

The website has a recent (February 2012) blog entry, "The 10 Greatest Cases of Fraud in University Research."  Here is the link.

The Integrity in Scholarship webpages of the University of Mchigan Office of the Vice President for Research here describe in full detail what is expected.  That means both how they expect you to fulfill your obligations, as well as what they expect you to know.
Generally, nothing here should be surprising, confusing, or arguable.  This has been worked out over many years by many people.  Also, several interesting cases have tested the limits of these policies and they always stand up.

Stated one way or another. every college has these rules.

Misconduct in the pursuit of scholarship and research includes at least the following major offenses:
  • Fabrication of data: dishonesty in reporting results, ranging from fabrication of data, improper adjustment of results, and gross negligence in collecting or analyzing data to selective reporting or omission of conflicting data for deceptive purposes:
  • Plagiarism: taking credit for someone else’s work and ideas, stealing others’ results or methods, copying the writing of others without proper acknowledgment, or otherwise falsely taking credit for the work or ideas of another;
  • Abuse of confidentiality: taking or releasing the ideas or data of others which were shared with the legitimate expectation of confidentiality, e.g., stealing ideas from others’ grant proposals, award applications, or manuscripts for publication when one is a reviewer for granting agencies or journals;
  • Falsification in research: deliberately misrepresenting research, including the progress of research, to a research sponsor;
  • Dishonesty in publication: knowingly publishing material that will mislead readers, e.g., misrepresenting data, particularly its originality, misrepresenting research progress, or adding the names of other authors without permission;
  • Deliberate violation of regulations: flagrant and repeated failure to adhere to or to receive the approval required for work under research regulations of Federal, State, local or University agencies, including, but not limited to, guidelines for the:
  • protection of human subjects
  • protection of animal subjects
  • use of recombinant DNA
  • use of radioactive material
  • use of hazardous chemicals or biologicals
  • conduct of classified research
  • Property violations: stealing or destroying property of others, such as research papers, supplies, equipment, or products of research or scholarship;
  • Failure to report observed major offenses: covering up or otherwise failing to report major offenses or breaches of research ethics by others that one has observed.
  • Retaliation: taking punitive action against an individual for having reported alleged major offenses.
"Plagiarists have been demoted, dismissed from their schools, from their jobs, and their degrees and honors have been rescinded as a result of their misdeeds (Standler, 2000)."
On the ORI website is the case of a researcher who had 15 ethical violations. The first two charges against him included falsification of PowerPoint presentations.

The Office of Research Integrity

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

To work for the ORI, you need to have education and experience in a combination of areas that may include medical and biological sciences, or physical sciences, as well as business administration, accounting, criminology, or other fields.  Like all agencies, ORI and HHS also hire peopel for administrative, clerical, and information technology opportunities.

Read about HHS jobs briefly here.
Then, visit the federal government job site here.

The Office of Research Integrity is headed by a Director who reports to the Assistant Secretary of Health.  
"The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) promotes integrity in biomedical and behavioral research supported by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) at about 4,000 institutions worldwide. ORI monitors institutional investigations of research misconduct and facilitates the responsible conduct of research (RCR) through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities."
Office of Public Health and Science is responsible for overseeing the research at these federal programs:
  • National Institutes of Health.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The Food and Drug Administration
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • The Indian Health Service
  • Office of Regional Health Administrators
"In FY 2004, the PHS provided at least $30 billion for health research and development, primarily in the biomedical and behavioral sciences through its extramural and intramural programs."

Read the full history of ORI here.
"Research misconduct became a public issue in the United States in 1981 when then Representative Albert Gore, Jr., chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, held the first hearing on the emerging problem. The hearing was prompted by the public disclosure of research misconduct cases at four major research centers in 1980. Some twelve cases of research misconduct were disclosed in this country between 1974-1981. Congressional attention to research misconduct was maintained throughout the 1980s by additional allegations of research misconduct and reports that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), universities, and other research institutions were inadequately responding to those allegations."

The Case of Junghee J. Shin, Ph.D.

From the Office of Research Integrity, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, website, the full case study is here.   Students need be aware of several key facts.
  1. Dr. Shin is a researcher today.  He continues his work. 
  2. He committed the infractions when he was a graduate student in 2004.
  3. The fraud was discovered and he published a retraction in 2008.
  4. Then, in 2010, the ORI followed up on the separate crime of fraud with federal funding based on the harms committed in 2004.
 Where were you seven years ago?  If you are in the 8th grade now, then you were in the first grade then.  Suppose you cheated on a spelling test.  That fact was not revealed until the tests were regraded three years later.   You then write a letter of apology to your 1st grade teacher and the principal.  Then, four years after that, your current school announces that because you cheated on a spelling test in the 1st grade, you will report to the office every day to tell them that you are not cheating now.  In research this is called a "remediation plan."

That may all seem unfair. But that is how science works; and it is how federal funding of research works.  Actions have consequences.  If you commit research fraud, that fact will never be erased, expunged or forgotten.  It will come back to haunt you repeatedly.

Moreoover, every such case is always reported in The Federal Register.  It becomes part of the documentary history of the United States. (The abbreviation GPO stands for Government Printing Office.)
[Federal Register: August 25, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 164)]
[Page 52346]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []

Furthermore, consider the impact not only on Dr. Shin, but on his colleagues.  He committed two separate acts of "fudging" his data and his reports.  His work was part of a group effort. Therefore, his retraction also invalidated their work.  Even if their results were beyond reproach, the paper and the manuscript were withdrawn, thus negating the valid work of his colleagues. 

Junghee J. Shin, PhD, New York Medical College: Based on the report of an investigation conducted by New York Medical College (NYMC) and additional analysis by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in its oversight review, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) found that Junghee J. Shin, PhD, former graduate student, NYMC, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 AI048856 and R01 AI043063.
PHS found that the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data in Figure 4 of a manuscript submitted to the journal Infection and Immunity (Shin, J.J., Godfrey, H.P., & Cabello, F.C. "Expression and localization of BmpC in Borrelia burgdorferi after growth under various environmental conditions." Submitted to Infection and Immunity; hereafter referred to as the "manuscript") and Figure 5 of a paper published in Infection and Immunity (Shin, J.J. Bryksin, A.V., Godfrey, H.P., & Cabello, F.C. "Localization of BmpA on the exposed outer membrane of Borrelia burgdorferi by monospecific anti- recombinant BmpA rabbit antibodies." Infection and Immunity 72(4):2280-2287, April 2004, hereafter referred to as the "paper." Retracted in: Infection and Immunity 76(10):4792, October 2008).

The Mass-Mediated Hyper-reality of Crime

The CSI franchise, the Law & Order franchise, the NCIS franchise (will there be a new show, NCIS: Port to Port?), these are businesses that sell fiction as closely related to criminology as Star Trek is to physics. 

We know rationally that few human problems as intense as marriage and murder can be solved in 54 minutes.  The telescoping of time is a convenience for storytelling.  The real problem with crime fiction is that it obscures basic truths by projecting startling anomolies as real.  Corporate executives do not kill each other - in real life, deaths come from corporate irresponsibility and the victims are anonymous and many.  When "the boys in the hood" kill each other over drugs, we do not see who owns the airplanes (and submarines) that bring the stuff in.  More to the point, it is not necessary for the poor to commit homicide to go to prison.  According to University of Michigan law professor, Samuel R. Gross,  as many as 80,000 people have been wrongfully imprisoned in the past generation. They were not corporate executives framed for murder. 

It is also true that, generally, at the time a so-called "first offender" first makes a court appearance he has committed about 30 previous felonies for which he was either not caught or otherwise avoided consequences. 

In order to separate fact from fiction, it is important to define the crimes, harms, actors and circumstances.

Generally, any police chief will tell you that 80% of the problems come from 20% of the addresses in any neighborhood.  The sons of lawyers, doctors and accountants are just as likely to shoot out street lights with a pellet gun as the friends they don't have across town.  Their fathers are just as likely to strike their mothers or abuse their cousins.  The difference is in the response of the criminal justice system - even as the ultimate response (doing nothing) may be the same. 

On the other hand, when a series of burglaries is reported and when the neighborhood calls the city council representative to get action from the police, the response is widely different across neighborhoods.  In the suburbs, useless patrols roll through the subdivisions more often.  In the city, "known offenders" are rounded up and charged with crimes.

For the accused youth in the suburbs, there are more resources.  Plea bargaining is not a matter of choosing jail over prison by admitting to crimes they did not commit so that the police can "clear" a string of reported harms.

And we are talking about youths. Burglary, shoplifting, petty drugs, graffiti, and vandalism are the crimes of youth - and most offenders simply age out of crime.  Marriage, family, work, and overall maturity take a toll on the headstrong and carefree. 

But that does not make a good TV franchise.

 In the city much retail business is "off the books."   Plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, and beauticians are among the many productive people who look "unemployed" to the authorities.  The businesses themselves are illegal, being unlicensed.  Making an honest living is against the law.  Again, that does not play well on TV or in the movies.

When gangs of toughs shake down neighborhood merchants, we call that a shake down.  When Goldman Sachs extracts a $12.9 billion dollars from the people of the United States, we call that quantitative easing.

As a result of the mass-media distortions that reflect back to us the reflected images we sent back to them, among the most common fears of crime is among old, white women in the suburbs who watch out for serial cannibals. It is unlikely that the neighborhood librarian poisoned her nephew to prevent him from coming out.  However, it is likley that she has been visited by federal agents wanting to know who is reading which books.  That, too, is a story that does not play well on television crime franchises.

Eastern Michigan University professor of criminology Gregg Barak is responsible for several innovations in the sociology of crime.  Most recently, he and his collaborators, Prof. Young S. Kim, and Hon. Donald E. Shelton, published a series of papers on the "CSI Effect"  (summary here.).  Among Dr. Barak's other investigations is "newsmaking criminology" the relationship between the mass media and the reality of crime. 

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