Fraud Charges Haunt the Accused

A survey of biomedical researchers who had been accused of misconduct--and later cleared--found that almost 40% believe their careers had been harmed.

The survey queried 54 of 108 people whose cases were closed by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), an investigative arm of the Department of Health and Human Services. The study, conducted for ORI by the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, found that three out of five researchers reported one or more negative consequences--such as delays in getting papers published and being shunned by colleagues--stemming from a misconduct probe. In addition, 17% reported a severe outcome such as losing a job, or failing to receive a promotion or raise. Most blamed the career fallout on institutional officials and whistle-blowers. Cases in the public eye more often resulted in damage; nearly always, the fallout began in the midst of an investigation. This finding, the report says, suggests that institutions must do more to prevent leaks to the press and to conduct speedy investigations.

The consequences usually weren't so devastating as to force accused scientists to leave science. About 94% of the exonerated scientists were still doing research, and 71% were still at the institution where the investigation was conducted. Nevertheless, the report concludes, institutions should do a better job of restoring exonerated researchers' reputations. But that isn't so easy, says ORI's Lawrence Rhoades. "There is a real question as to how to restore a reputation," he says.