A Second Chance for Fraudsters?

What’s behind paper retractions? (26)
by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, Labtimes 01/2015

Photo: zettberlin / Source: PHOTOCASE

In late December, we wrote about an economist in Pakistan, Khalid Zaman, who’d faked peer review on at least 16 papers. We also reported that Zaman had been seeking a job at a new institution, and that his application, which we’d obtained, made no mention of his retractions, nor of why he had suddenly left his previous institution.

A number of commenters on Retraction Watch said – some quite vehemently – it wasn’t fair game for us to cover Zaman’s search for employment. Some objected specifically to the fact that we had published passages from his application, while others argued more globally that we should stick to retractions and not concern ourselves with the effects on someone’s career. Let hiring managers figure that out, they wrote. We were bullying Zaman.

Hiding a bad name

We always appreciate constructive criticism and will take all of those comments to heart. But we believe very strongly in the need to follow up on retractions, particularly their effect on careers. Here’s why:

Although we certainly believe that everyone deserves a second chance, it’s also clear that many fraudsters aren’t really looking for a fresh start as much as a place where no one knows their bad name.

Take, for example, the case of Scott Weber, a nursing scholar who left the University of Pittsburgh under a cloud but was able to land a new job at another school because Pitt did not provide a comprehensive reference.

Or Michael Miller, who was found guilty of misconduct using Federal U.S. grants and was hired by a grant-writing consulting firm, where his bio boasted of winning the very grants on which he committed fraud. He lost that job when we contacted the CEO of that firm.

Or Yoshitaka Fujii, the record holder for retractions, whose career of misconduct spanned at least four Japanese medical centres that we’re aware of.

Or Igor Dzhura, who faked more than 70 images while at Vanderbilt, then landed a job at Novartis – which he lost as soon as they learned that he had lied on his application.

To be sure, a common thread of these cases is poor reference checks. But in our experience, fraudsters tend to be recidivists. They cheat until they get caught and if they have an opportunity to cheat again, they take it.

Let’s be clear: The mere fact of having a retraction on one’s CV should by no means be a disqualification for a job. After all, retractions often are a sign that science is working as it should by being self-correcting.

Indeed, Retraction Watch has a category called “Doing the Right Thing” to commend researchers who correct the record even at personal expense. These authors should be rewarded, not punished and, in fact, evidence suggests that they do experience a sort of trust dividend among their colleagues.

Exposing deceivers

So it’s all the more important that scientists, who take the opposite approach by hiding their misdeeds from public scrutiny, trying to whitewash their resumes and generally being dishonest about their work, be exposed.

As blogger Neuroskeptic put it: “If he were to quit academia and apologize, then perhaps we could say ‘he’s learned his lesson’ and let’s leave him alone – but no, that hasn’t happened. Instead he’s trying to take an academic job that ought to go to someone more honest.”

“If he takes this job, an honest (most likely Pakistani) economist will be unemployed in his stead,” Neuroskeptic continued. “That’s unfair.”

The authors run the blog Retraction Watch: http://retractionwatch.com

Last Changed: 04.02.2015

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