Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"These are not the retractions you're concerned about"

"We're not concerned about these retractions... move along..."
Credit: darthmaz314
You may remember the nanochopsticks paper from last year. More of them have been retracted and Retraction Watch has had the goods -- but here's an interesting comment at RW from the University of Utah's research integrity officer about federal funds and the possibility of federal investigation: 
The funding question is a little complicated.  The authors acknowledged NSF and NIH funding for the Nano Letters paper and NIH funding for the ACSNano paper.  However, the authors subsequently determined that federal funds were not used for the work reported in the NanoLetters paper and were not used for the work under question in the ACSNano paper. 
An internal investigation confirmed that federal dollars were not used and the annual progress reports to NSF and NIH for the relevant grants do not refer to the work in question.  University of Utah funds were used to support the research.  Therefore the acknowledgements in the Nano Letters paper were inappropriate. 
NSF and NIH were notified about the investigation when it began and both agencies (actually ORI and OIG) were provided the final reports of the investigation and our information regarding use of federal funds.  I do not know the status of any discussion of the case at either ORI or OIG.
I'm not an expert in the research integrity bureaucracy, but it appears that NIH ORI and NSF can only investigate when their research funding is involved. To avoid a federal investigation, is it really simple enough to say "your research dollars were not involved here" to get them to go away? 


  1. To answer your question, Utah apparently hopes so.

    Does they have an agricultural college? Because their explanation sounds like bulls__t to me.

  2. Duh, the grant money was for real research and the papers were fabricated, ergo the NSF/NIH money couldn't have been used because it was not earmarked for malfeasance.

    What troubles me about this is that the PI was let off the hook. How was he supposed to know what was going on in that paper? What is he, some kind of expert? This is what happens when the incentives are perverted and all the funding, tenure and promotion depends on MOAR PAPERS! Who cares if the research is valid or repeatable or does nothing but add to the sum of all human noise, how does it affect my h-index?

    The U tells us that it was all just one bad apple who pulled a fast one on us, shame on him. Now let's continue on as before, except maybe in addition to the Research Ethics course that Raj had to take as part of the grad program at the U, they should also have a short course on Photoshop. The only thing worse than fabricating research results is doing such a crappy job of it.

  3. Saying it is one thing. Proving it might be something else entirely.

  4. @Anon -- Yes, the malfeasance funds most likely came from a Dept Of Education grant.