The most recent Semi-Annual Report (SAR) to Congress issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) details five findings of wrongdoing made by NSF based on previous OIG investigations. and cases pending NSF decisions.
As RRC As reported earlier this year, the OIG was investigating a case involving a professor and a graduate student, both recommended for misconduct. In accordance with NSF and OIG policy, no institutions or persons subject to sanctions are identified. HHS, on the other hand, publishes such names.
The new report shows NSF took action against the student, but OIG said RRC Sanctions against the professor are still pending. The report also indicates no further progress in the search for a retraction, which the government says the professor has stopped.
Although investigated separately, the two have been accused of “misrepresentation” together[ing] Data in a publication and deposit[ing] the data in a genetic sequence database.” The university “determined that the graduate student engaged in research misconduct, engaged in reckless acts of data falsification, and violated the student code of conduct. The graduate student knowingly drew conclusions not supported by the experimental results and submitted these data in a manuscript for publication and a public database.”
Mentoring plan required
The university imposed a series of sanctions on the student. NSF agreed with them and those recommended by OIG. “NSF has banned the graduate student from participating as a reviewer, consultant, or reviewer for NSF for three years. In addition, the NSF required three years of certifications and assurances, as well as a data management plan and a mentoring plan with annual certifications.”
But the complication with the withdrawal was not overcome. The OIG reports that “NSF required compliance with university-imposed requirements, including correcting the research report by withdrawing publication; Although the retraction was blocked by the PhD student’s professor, the journal’s editors issued an editorial concern.
Recantation and concern are not the same. Because NSF and OIG withhold identifying details, RRC was unable to contact anyone to learn more about the revocation dispute. RRC OIG asked if there is a bigger problem for the research integrity community, OIG and NSF when a researcher can effectively thwart the will of a federal agency trying to correct the research records by refusing to allow a retraction.
An OIG spokesperson didn’t directly answer the question, but said, “The journal’s decision is outside of the control of NSF or the university.”
“We have no details as to how the professor was able to block the retraction or why the journal editors chose not to raise a concern rather than a retraction,” the spokesman said. “Different journals have different withdrawal policies. For example, some journals might require that all authors agree to a retraction’, although it is not known if this was the case here.
Both the retraction request “and the magazine’s final expression of concern occurred before the NSF ruled the case,” the spokesman said.
The university took action against the professor and demanded, among other things, “that a co-advisor for the professor’s students in the laboratory and experienced co-PIs be appointed for 3 years [principal investigators] be added to the professor’s grant requests for research outside of his or her area of expertise.”
The OIG recommended that NSF require the professor to request a revocation, comply with the university’s sanctions, and direct the professor to follow a “mentoring plan with annual certifications.” As noted, the NSF has not yet responded to the OIG’s recommendations regarding the professor.
Wrong website brings disqualification
Other cases have been resolved as follows:
The NSF imposed a three-year ban on a former student who created a fake website and copied and later deleted files in hopes of thwarting investigators of fabrication and counterfeiting, sanctions recommended by OIG. He is also prohibited from acting as an assessor, appraiser or advisory board member for four years. The student appealed the sanctions to the NSF, but the agency stood by its actions, according to SAR.
NSF also banned a PI who inserted plagiarized material in two rejected NSF proposals “from participating as a peer reviewer, consultant, or consultant for NSF for one year and required certifications and assurances for one year.”
In the case of one investigator who had argued that the use of a “similarity index” indicated that he was not guilty of plagiarism, the NSF nevertheless imposed a series of sanctions for three years: a ban, as a reviewer, consultant, or appraiser to serve NSF and submit certifications and assurances.
NSF supported the OIG recommendations against an investigator “who claimed that literal texts do not need to be delimited” and barred the individual from “participating for NSF as a reviewer, consultant or consultant for two years.” In addition, NSF required certifications and assurances for 2 years. The PI’s appeal against the NSF’s decision is still pending,” the SAR said.
1 Office of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation, Mid-Year Report to Congress: October 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022NSF-OIG-66 accessed 25 July 2022, https://bit.ly/3cwM0wt.
2 Theresa Defino, “In New Report, NSF OIG Shares Details of Investigator Misconduct, Fight Back” Research Compliance Report 19, No. 8 (August 2022).
3 Theresa Defino, “Stories of Misconduct: ‘Similarity Index’, Years of Fake Data, Plagiarized Suggestions, No Citations”, Research Compliance Report 19, No. 1 (January 2022), https://bit.ly/3NxhWxZ.